Lions 'facing extinction in West Africa'

A lion cub in Nigeria This lion cub was photographed by researchers in Nigeria

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There has been a "catastrophic collapse" in the number of lions in West Africa, with only around 400 left in the region, a new survey suggests.

With fewer than 250 mature lions of breeding age, there are concerns the entire population could disappear.

The research by Panthera, a non-profit organisation, was carried out in 17 countries, from Senegal to Nigeria, and took more than six years.

West African lions are genetically distinct from others in Africa.

In 2005, West African lions were believed to live in 21 different protected areas. But the survey, published in the scientific journal PLOS One, suggests lions now exist in just four of those sites.

The report says lions now roam in just 1.1% of their historic range in West Africa. The majority of their habitat has been converted for agricultural use, says Philipp Henschel, co-author of the report.


Panthera is calling for the lion to be listed as critically endangered 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," Mr Henschel told the BBC's Sivaramakrishnan Parameswaran.

The conservation of lions in West Africa have been largely neglected, whereas in eastern and southern Africa where millions of dollars a year are spent, he said.

Lion in Senegal This lion was photographed by researchers in Senegal
Bush meat problem

The researchers discovered that West African lions now survive in only five countries; Senegal, Nigeria and a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina-Faso.

These lions have unique genetic sequence not found in other lions including in zoos or captivity. If they are lost then a unique locally adapted population will become extinct, researchers say.

Large-scale plantations for cotton and food crops have contributed significantly to the decline of the lions in the last decade, the survey found.

Poached antelope in Ivory Coast Researchers found meat from poached antelope in Ivory Coast

Today, lions are largely restricted to protected areas, and the poaching of animals - usually preyed upon by lions - to supply local bushmeat markets is probably the main threat, said Mr Henschel.

"In some areas, we also witnessed the retaliatory killing of lions by herdsmen that entered protected areas illegally with their herds of cattle and goats," he said.

Funding crisis

A lack of funding for conservation coupled with an increasing human population and impoverished economies, means lions are increasingly vulnerable, researchers say.

"We are talking about some of the poorest counties in the world - many governments have bigger problems than protecting lions," Mr Henschel said.

Rangers training in Yankari in Nigeria Wildlife rangers are being trained in Nigeria

West African Lions have special significance in the culture of the region. They are a symbol of pride for the governments and people, and are represented on the coats of arms of several countries.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) says concerted international help is urgently needed.

Benin and Senegal are working with the research team to establish a National Lion Action Plan to identify ways and measures to save the lions in their countries.

"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," says Panthera's President Luke Hunter.

To save the lion will require a massive commitment of resources from the international community."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.


  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Every animal species is only interested in self preservation. In fact humans are the only species that protects others for no immediate gain to ourselves. Other species don't care, it's the rats and ants we bring with us that cause most devistation to island habitats. Yes we cause far more devistation but only because we are able to, not because we are a "parasite".

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Lions dying out - this has been known about for many years - the most common cause is the use of a chemical insecticide banned in most countries.
    This insecticide is produced by an american corporation responsible for the worst cases of environmental damage and general business crime. Currently one company is using trawlers to rake the Norwegian coast for seaweed. Check youtube.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    We humans are an animal species who are only involved in self preservation. We are interested and want to live until we are 200, regardless of how many tablets medical procedures we undergo. So other species must suffer. If we all stop trying to live till we are 100 then perhaps the world will be a better place. Still we are a parasite upon the earth and we do it rather well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    45. PragueImp
    ......We did it - why can't they?!
    Well the world doesn't have to blindly go on making the same mistakes.Especially as these countries are rightly so critical of their past colonial masters and the bad things they did.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    This will be replayed in the not too distant future only this time it will be us. Lack of respect for your surroundings is bad enough but thinking nothing will effect you,as most humans do,is a disaster waiting to happen.
    E.G. Honey bees going - when they have gone food shortages-humans go hungry- this creates wars-humans die off - something else takes over.

    Everything has its place etc etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    We need to stop the human race and its ever expanding population, if we are ever going to save the lion and other animal and plant life around the world.
    More humans need more land, which leaves less and less for the wildlife & flora

    We should be limiting human reproduction in western and third worlds countries! Not helping more to survive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Make it compulsory for every politician not only in Africa but all over the world to have undertaken a basic course in wildlife conservation, make them pass a test before they plunge into politics, and make them take an oath just like doctors do to protect wildlife to the best of their ability!! Africa's resources are going to be drained one way or another what you need is maintain game reserves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    24.l j s
    The global population has trebled in my lifetime and I am under 60, it will quadruple by the time I die at about 80.

    You give a hint at the problem. The birth rate is declining and at about equilibrium. The problem is people are living longer which is pushing up global populations.
    The issue is not birth control it's how long do we want to live for and consume.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    What is happening in West Africa is what happened in Europe and North America when our populations grew and we needed more space for food; we killed all the megfauna (including lions).

    So it is difficult for us to tell them to stop it. We did it - why can't they?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Too many humans wanting land ..... the population explosion that's really going on in Africa, is in almost direct contrast to aims of the appeals on the daily TV charity adverts, to give more money to the people of the region, in order 'stop starvation'. Control the birth rates and you defeat starvation in both humans and animals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    "Click through to the research, and check out the sparse figures.
    Of 21 areas covered in West Africa, the researchers have lion numbers for just four."

    Of 21 areas covered, researchers found lions in only 4. The numbers in the other 17 areas are in the research, they are just zero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    We should all be ashamed; very ashamed.

    Not just for what is happening to these lions but to also for all the other species we are driving to extinction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The comment about just Paper Parks is very relevant but the pressure on land for food production in W Africa is very real - especially as agri training is at an all time low. Land management is now critical for all especially the pastoralists who roam over great distances. Yankari in Bauchi State Nigeria is a classic case. Religious/tribal pressure doesn't help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Erm, what? You do know you can get from Asia to Africa overland don't you? Such a weird comment.

    I was surprised last week to see a WWF advert for save the lions, at the time I thought "but lions are doing okay", this article makes that advert make more sense now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    As has already been pointed out, this survey is incomplete, thats why the 'journalist who penned this has to use inverted commas when using words like 'under threat'.

    Where else online would you find so many Anti-Human comments than a HYS on the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    So, what else is new? Where humans go we trash everything in sight. Between big business and short-sighted governments nothing is safe except ensuring profits rise and to hell with everything else. As for the dwindlingr numbers, a pity the same can't be said for the human race. As I'm too old for a 1 way trip 2 Mars... all I can hope for is that Scotty beams me up PDQ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    What a dreadful shame.
    International agreement is needed here to target both poachers and the people who employ them, wherever they may be.
    Perhaps we should use some of the international aid that we're currently sending to countries with space programmes and nuclear weapons? Having it spent on the protection of these magnicient animals should surely be worthwhile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The planet has 7Billion plus people, a figure which is growing daily, there is not room for people and wild animals

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Shock, Horror!

    Somebody should do something about this! but not me...


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