African lion population to drop by half in 20 years

African lion population to drop by half in 20 years

Original Publication Date: 30 October 2015

The Hard Truth

A recent study has found that the African lion population may drop by half in the next 20 years if detrimental human activity continues at the same pace without significant conservation efforts.

47 of 67 subpopulations were sampled, totaling to 8221 lions. The study discovered pronounced reductions in West and Central Africa, and possible local extinctions in Comoe and Mole national parks. Although the East African populations are some of the most stable, there were still substantial declines in their numbers.

​Populations in southern Africa are also among the most stable, however, lions in the Okavango Delta in Botswana showed significant declines.

Overall, the African lion population has decreased by 50% since 1993, according to Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, a global conservation organization for big cats. Now, it is estimated that there are about 20,000 lions remaining in all of Africa.

It is predicted that Central and West African populations have a 67% chance of dropping by half in the next two decades, whereas, in more stable areas, the probability is 37%.

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Humans and the Lion’s Survival

The greater stability of eastern and southern lion populations are attributed to lower density of humans, fenced wildlife preserves, sound national policies, and profits from legal hunting and tourism.

On the other hand, there are a number of African countries that cannot afford to create and enforce significant conservation efforts. The recent global uproar to ban trophy hunting may make this issue worse, in that it could very well take away a primary resource in conservation activities.

Issues that have negative impacts on African lion survival include encroachment on natural habitat (lions have lost about 85% of their historic range), human-animal conflict that results from this, and unregulated trophy hunting.

As humans increase in density, development overtakes habitat originally allocated to wildlife, which can directly result in a decrease in predatory species, or in a reduction of prey species. This can lead the predatory species (in this case, the African lion) to venture into human residence, seeking livestock as prey. Humans retaliate by shooting the animals or poisoning carcasses. Unregulated hunting and poaching are increasing in frequency, driving the animals’ numbers down at an alarming rate.

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An International Concern

Scientists urge countries around the world to make this an international concern. Given that several African countries cannot afford to protect their iconic wildlife, countries from the West and other regions can band together and implement effective conservation regulations.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists African lions as vulnerable, rather than endangered, and the species is categorized by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Appendix II, deeming the lion as “not yet threatened with extinction but may become so.” The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list the species as “threatened,” which would offer it greater protection under the Endangered Species Act.

This would require permits for the import of trophies, and restrict import from countries which have a “scientifically sound management plan for African lions.”

​A decision is yet to be made on this proposal, but it is clear that lions have a dim future if we continue at our current rate without effective, innovative conservation efforts.


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