Bad News for West African Lions

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera's survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

A male lion in Pendjari National Park during Panthera’s survey of the W-Arly-PendjariComplex, located in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger – 2012 Credit: Philipp Henschel/Panthera

Felid biologist and friend Phillip Henschel’s paper was just published after he and his teams conducted six years of thorough presence and absence surveys of Lions in West Africa. Their results are bleak. West African Lions are only found in five countries with a total population of less then 5oo and more specifically less than 250 mature individuals (this would categorize them as critically endangered if they were considered their own species). Before the study took place, 21 protected areas within western Africa were said to have lions, once Phil showed up, he realized not only were these areas mostly paper parks (aka there is no infrastracture or on the ground staff), but most of them were totally devoid of any lions. In fact, he only found signs of their presence in one area in Senegal, two areas in Nigeria, and finally in a larger protected area partially in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Lion status in West African protected areas within lion range

Having less than 20 mature lions in three out of the four areas does not bode well for those populations to survive in the long term. Moreover, these areas are not anywhere near each other which prevents possible movement from one population to another.

It was recently determined through DNA studies that West African Lions are very different from their East and South African cousins and are far more related to the extinct Barbary Lion (that occupied northern Africa) and the Asiatic Lions holding on in India. The one good news is that with this study we have conclusive evidence of their dire situation, which provides the basis for conservation action to be taken.

So what are the next steps?

The greatest need is providing protection for the remaining animals. By helping the governments financially to increase enforcements within the park and increasing operational budgets to establish a better infrastructure can the lions have a chance. The cat conservation organization Panthera is leading that charge. You can donate to them here.

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques -- Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria  Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

Dr. Henschel trains park rangers in lion survey techniques — Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria Credit: Gilbert Nyanganji/WCS Nigeria

If you would to to read the full scientific paper, click here here.

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