Lions Face Extinction in West Africa

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Fewer than 250 adults may be left in West Africa, and those big cats are confined to less than 1 percent of their historic range.


The new study, detailed in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that without dramatic conservation efforts, three of the four West African lion populations could become extinct in the next five years, with further declines in the one remaining population, study co-author Philipp Henschel, the lion program survey coordinator for Panthera, a global wildcat conservation organization, wrote in an email. [In Photos: The Biggest Lions on Earth]

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The majestic lion once roamed throughout West Africa, from Nigeria to Senegal.

But as people have converted wild lands to pastureland, hunted the lion's traditional prey - antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest, buffalos and zebras - and gotten into conflicts with the animals, the big cat population has plummeted in West Africa.

Cash-strapped West African governments have put little money into lion conservation, in part because "wildlife tourism is quasi-absent in West Africa," Henschel said.

And research institutions have similarly neglected the region.

"Like wildlife tourists, most international research institutions and conservation organizations active in Africa also flock to the iconic game parks in East and southern Africa, meaning that lions faced a silent demise in West Africa over the past decades," Henschel told LiveScience.

Massive Survey

To remedy that, Henschel and his colleagues recently completed a massive, six-year survey of West Africa's lions, using remote cameras, interviews with people and counts of lion tracks. The survey, carried out between October 2006 and May 2012, builds on a smaller study done last year, which found shrinking savannas for lions in the region.

About 400 adult and juvenile lions existed in the region. And the wild cats, which were originally thought to have inhabited 21 separate regions, actually exist in just four. Their range is now confined to pockets in Senegal, Nigeria and the borderlands between Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.

These isolated populations are also threatened due to reduced genetic variation.

"Individuals are limited in their choice of mates, and end up reproducing with closely related individuals. Such inbreeding reduces the genetic fitness of sired offspring, which, in lions, manifests itself in lower reproductive success caused by lower sperm counts and higher rates of abnormal sperm in males," Henschel told LiveScience.

Endangered Status

To keep the lion from going extinct in Africa, governments and conservation organizations should boost budgets for conservation parks and personnel, to keep people from killing the lions' prey or the big cats themselves, Henschel said.

Half Of Africa's Lions May Go Extinct In 40 Years

The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently lists the lion as vulnerable in Africa. The West African lion is not considered a different species, so it is rated as regionally endangered, Henschel said.

But recent studies suggest the West African lions are genetically distinct from their brethren in other regions of the continent and are closely related to Barbary lions of North Africa and the few Asiatic lions left in India.

The genetic findings, combined with the dire survey results, suggest the West African lion should be listed as a critically endangered subspecies, or at the least, as a regionally critically endangered animal, Henschel said.

Original article on LiveScience. Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Drew

Its more important the world has outta control over-populating of Africans, than of the Animals that were also God's Creation. Just joking. Its sad. Mankind has robbed the environment of the animals. As if we need another Billion Africans. The best thing the world can do, is stop giving any AID$ to African nations and India, that are over-populating and taking away the remaining natural environments for the animals.

January 11 2014 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
knute9

Sadly, it looks like mankind is the parasite of the planet, and are effectively killing our host.

January 11 2014 at 4:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stacie

The whole world will suffer without the Lion and the Elephant? Will man be able to survive without this great Love of Both?

January 11 2014 at 4:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
englishfleck

The trophy hunts are not the problem, The problem is the total disregard for wild lands and wildlife that is often demonstrated in Africa by native Africans and the politicians.

January 11 2014 at 2:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nasknit

Mostly, it's a matter of NOT enough land & resources for ALL the wildlife and ALL the people. Constantly climbing human population has cut wildlife "reservations" by more than half worldwide, in the last 20-30 years. There are now over 7 Billion people on this planet, and if the human race keeps increasing at the current rate, the only places people will be able to see these majestic creatures, will be in Zoos, IF they're lucky!

January 11 2014 at 2:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nasknit's comment
englishfleck

I agree but let us be specific, The population explosion is in Africa , Asia and Latin America.

January 11 2014 at 2:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
merstockgto

It is very sad and upsetting to see what humans are doing to wild life around the world.

January 11 2014 at 12:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
big dog

humans have this instinct to kill at will.
if it moves shoot it, if it scares you shoot it.
lions are going the way of the Do DO birds.
with so much suffering al over Africa it's no wonder
lions and all the other beautiful wild animals
mean nothing. STOP THE KILLING NOW.

January 11 2014 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to big dog's comment
englishfleck

The killing is a ZERO issue , It is the lack of wild land due to human encroachment but since that is not PC, Many close their eyes and scream "Stop the killing".

January 11 2014 at 2:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
canienaga

You are right and this is not only happening in Africa. It is still happening in the U.S. There is still fighting going on in the west over the re-introduction of the wolf. The ranchers still want to kill them all off as they did a hundred years ago. Americans still haven't learned from their errors. Look what we did to the buffalos. They have been re-introduction in a small number. I wil dare to approach a touchy subject - I think the world needs to think about human limitation on the number of births. There is only so much space on this world.

January 11 2014 at 3:21 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Maria

why do we do this crap? Who do we as a so called \"human race\" think we are. Laws that are on the books should be enforced, Why are the hunts even legal? I understand that legal hunts may or may not be a good thing but this is insane. To bring the lions to extinction is a sad page in the human race

January 11 2014 at 12:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marcia Rodriguez

They need to stop their hideous "trophy" hunts

January 10 2014 at 11:22 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
laughman44

It's either global warming or George Bush's fault

January 10 2014 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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