The West African Lion is dying out of sight...

West African Lion -

The West African Lion is dying out of sight...

of reading - words

West Africa is home to lions, but this may change in the coming years. Indeed, a recent review of the situation has just made a more than negative assessment of them. Only about 400 remain, spread over 1.1% of their historical range. Let us hope that they will be considered by the IUCN as a new subspecies.

West African Lions in danger.

West African lions are less stocky than their eastern and southern brethren and have less mane. Another difference is that they form small groups of one male and one or two females with their young. In Kenya, for example, these felines form groups of up to 40 individuals.

The mythical African animal par excellence, the lion (Panthera leo) has had to face many changes in its environment over the last few decades, notably due to the development of agriculture 🌿. Thus, its distribution area has considerably decreased in recent decades, to represent only about 25% of its historical size. Nowadays, less than 35,000 felines are said to live on this territory.

African male lion.

African male lion.

Where do lions live ?

Lions obviously live on the east coast of the African continent, where the majority of safaris are offered to the public. It is therefore perhaps somewhat quickly forgotten that they also live in natural parks in West Africa. The problem is that little is known about them. What is their current distribution, knowing that historically it stretches from Senegal to Nigeria ? How many individuals are there, and where? Without this information, how can we imagine developing conservation programmes, or tourism and its economic spin-offs ?

These questions have just been answered, thanks to Philipp Henschel of the NGO Panthera and his collaborators. For six years, these scientists carried out studies in 13 natural parks of more than 500 km2 , while trying to determine whether or not lions lived in eight other smaller parks. They were fairly confident that the sites of investigation were suitable for the species being studied. They were soon disillusioned. In West Africa, lions are on the brink of extinction 🆘.

Lion map distribution.

Lion map distribution.

Distribution of West African lions according to research by Philipp Henschel and his collaborators. Dark gray indicates areas where they are known to occur. In light grey, the nature reserves where they are absent. For the intermediate grey, their presence is only assumed. Philipp Henschel et al, Plos One, 2014.

Only 250 Lions of breeding age.

The reason for their disappointment is presented in Plos One magazine : only four populations have been located ! They total about 400 felines, but only 250 of them are sexually mature and therefore of breeding age. Their distribution areas, when cumulated, cover an area of 49,000 km2. They thus represent 1.1% of the historical distribution of West African lions! A single reserve is home to more than 50 felines.

For example, 10 Panthera leo have been recorded in the Niokolo Koba Natural Park in Senegal. Further east, at least 200 individuals live on the border between Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger, within the W-Arly-Pendjary protected site. The last two populations remain in Nigeria, in the natural parks of Kainji-Lake (less than 20 felines) and Yankari (less than 5 mammals). Note : small groups may survive in Guinea, but they have not been located. According to the researchers, if nothing is done to protect them from habitat destruction and poaching, among other things, West Africa could lose its lions within five years...

The situation is therefore critical, but one event could help these animals: the recognition of their subspecies. According to recent data, West African lions are genetically distinct from their eastern and southern congeners. However, if IUCN recognizes them as a new subspecies, they will then be included on the Red List and given a status of Critically Endangered 🦁. This subtlety could then attract the attention of international bodies, such as the World Bank, and perhaps ultimately facilitate funding and protection programmes.

Ben - Lion Republic Writer.

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