Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Lions in crisis - New research reveals huge declines across most of Africa

27 October 2015

Categories: Homepage News, Big Cats Campaign News

Lions are iconic emblems of Africa’s wildlife. However, a new study has detailed alarming declines in lion populations across most of the continent, prompting calls for urgent action.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), analysed the populations in 47 well-monitored lion populations, and used the data to estimate trends across the continent. The results make for sobering reading.

Lions are in decline everywhere except in four countries in southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe).  Across West and Central Africa, lion populations have fallen by at least 50% over two decades. Similar declines are also thought to have taken place in East Africa, a region long considered a stronghold for lions. The researchers predict that unless urgent conservation measures are taken, a further 50% decline is likely across these regions over the next two decades.

West Africa’s lions have been reclassified as ‘critically endangered’ as a result of this research. The researchers also found that Central and East Africa’s lions should be considered ‘endangered’. 

The increases in lion populations in four southern African countries have been attributed to the proliferation of reintroduced lions in small, fenced, intensively managed reserves. The researchers suggest that, without urgent action, the survival of the species will increasingly rely on these intensive management systems, and that lions may cease to be a flagship species across the natural ecosystems making up the rest of the continent, with knock-on effects for all kinds of other species.

Born Free’s CEO Adam Roberts said: “Africa without its iconic lions is unthinkable. Yet this is fast becoming a reality across much of the continent. It’s high time the international community woke up to the fact that, without concerted action and investment, lions will soon disappear altogether from many regions, and future generations will only be able to see lions in a few intensively managed reserves. We have to act now to reverse this catastrophic situation.”

The researchers, led by Dr Hans Bauer whose work is supported by the Born Free Foundation, identified human population growth, reductions in prey abundance in part caused by the increasing commercial trade in bush meat, and a lack of funding for conservation areas and national parks across much of Africa, as major reasons behind the declines. Increasing international trade in lion products, and unsustainable trophy hunting in some countries, are also thought to have had an impact.

Dr Bauer summed up the crisis: “What’s at stake is the presence of lions across 95% of their original range, the lion as a symbol of Africa, the lion showing its versatility and adaptability in an extremely wide range of habitats that it once roamed, as a functional part of ecosystems in virtually all African countries.”

Born Free’s history is closely tied to lion conservation and welfare, and the charity is working hard to persuade governments and policymakers to increase protection and funding for lions, as well as implementing national and regional lion conservation plans. Born Free also opposes the captive use and abuse of lions and other animals for entertainment purposes, and has rescued a number of lions from appalling captive conditions, most recently Jora and Black, two ex-circus lions from Bulgaria who have been moved from their tiny trailer to a new home at Born Free’s Shamwari sanctuary in South Africa.

Born Free Foundation
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