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Lions in West Africa Are on the Brink of Extinction

A young lion cub in the Yankari Game Reserve, Nigeria.

In a blog a year ago, we reported on a steep decline in the African lion population. At that time, researchers estimated the lion population in West Africa to be about 500.  But a six-year research study of lions in West Africa undertaken by Panthera, an Aid for Africa member, and published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, finds the situation is far worse.  Only 250 adult lions survive in the region today.

Adding to the concern is the recent discovery that West African lions are genetically distinct from lions found on the plains of East and South Africa.  The loss of the remaining West African lions would mean their extinction. 

Researchers surveyed 21 protected wildlife areas, but found most areas were protected in name only.  The majority of areas had no paid rangers or management staff, and, as a result, no lions.  Researchers found lions in only five West African countries– Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Protected areas in West Africa.

The study calls for the West African lion to be recognized as “critically endangered” and for governments and conservation organizations to help the cash-strapped countries with the remaining lions safeguard the areas where lions are now found.  That means funding park rangers and equipment, managing species that are the lions’ prey, and supporting training of conservation staff in the countries.

Luke Hunter, president of Panthera and a co-author of the study, said, “Lions have undergone a catastrophic collapse in West Africa. The countries that have managed to retain them are struggling with pervasive poverty and very little funding for conservation. To save the lion – and many other critically endangered mammals including unique populations of cheetahs, African wild dogs, and elephants – will require a massive commitment of resources from the international community.”

Aid for Africa and its member organizations are dedicated to helping children, families, and communities throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Our grassroots programs focus on wildlife protection, conservation, health, education, economic development, and arts & culture in Africa.

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