The African lion is facing the extinction across the entire West African region. According to a six-year survey covering 11 countries by the big cat conservation organization, Panthera, West Africa is now left with only 250 adult lions.
These lions used to range incessantly from Senegal to Nigeria once.
“When we set out in 2006 to survey all the lions of West Africa, the best reports suggested they survived in 21 protected areas,” says study leader Philipp Henschel, the survey coordinator of Panthera.
“We surveyed all of them, representing the best remaining lion habitat in West Africa.
“Our results came as a complete shock. All but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals.”
The 250 adult lions now exist in four remote and severely endangered populations out of which only one of them contains more than 50 lions.
“West African lions have unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity,” said Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/SCC Cat Specialist Group.
“These genes are not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity,” she says.
“If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found nowhere else. It makes their conservation even more urgent.”
West African lions are hereditarily unlike from their equivalent of East and southern Africa. These lions are known to be intimately related to the vanished Barbary lion that were once be found in North Africa and the last existing Asiatic lions surviving in India.
“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,” Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s President and co-author of the paper, said in a statement. “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.”
The paper ‘The lion in West Africa is critically endangered’ appeared in PLOS ONE.