New research found that the lion population is in decline in most areas on the African continent, especially in West Africa.
The drop in prey species that lions feed on, and the conflicts with herders have led to the decrease in lion population ever since 1992, according to a new survey.
“A lot of the African bush is now silent of the lion’s roar. We’re losing that characteristic emblem of African wilderness,” Luke Hunter, president of Panthera – a charitable organization dedicated to the conservation of big cats and their ecosystems – said.
A study conducted in 2013 found that lion populations decreased a lot in Uganda. Another study from 2014 suggested that West African lions were faced with extinction. However, in other areas like South Africa, the lion populations were doing well.
In the most recent study – published October 26 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – the researchers looked at more than 8,000 lions in 47 populations across Africa. Their data went back to 1990.
The researchers found that the declines in the lion population were steeper in central and western Africa. Those regions may lose fifty percent of their lions over the next two decades, if no measures are taken. A third of the lions in East Africa may disappear as well, the researchers said.
Fortunately the lion populations in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia, have been increasing over the past years. Significant resources have been devoted to lion conservation in those regions.
The two main factors which lead to the decline in lions are: poachers who capture the lions’ prey species, and native headers who tend to trap and kill the lions to protect their livestock.
Poachers use wire traps to catch animals like zebra and wildebeest – traditional prey for lions – and then they sell the wildmeat (bushmeat) to people in bigger cities. Lions are thus left with fewer animals to hunt, and are struggling to survive.
According to Hunter, trophy hunting – like the one that took down Cecil the lion – is currently a small contributor to the decline in lions.
To protect the lion population especially in West Africa, people should be taught how to keep their livestock safe by moving their herds into corrals at night and by building stronger fences.
More conservation workers should be hired to protect the prey species. They could patrol wildlife refuges and remove any wire traps they see. That would not only benefit lions, but other species as well, from rhinos to elephants.
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