15 - 01
After 6 intense years searching for lions in 11 West African nations, researchers have been utterly dismayed to find a dismal 400 lions.
It gets worse; less than 250 of these lions are actually capable of breeding, raising fears that the continent could be on the way to losing another major lion subspecies. The West African lion is closely related to the Barbary/Atlas lion, which roamed the North African plains and forests before it was hunted to extinction (officially) in 1922.
Of the 11 countries scoured for lions, only 5 had lions; Senegal, Nigeria, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso was the only country to have more than 50 lions.
To get an idea of how dismal this figures are, one should compare with lion populations in East Africa, where Kenya alone has roughly 2,000 lions.
The survey by a team of researchers from the non-profit organization Panthera also uncovered several critical underlying issues that significantly contributed to the demise of these apex predators. One of these is the fact that conservation in West Africa seems to have been largely neglected, as the researchers stumbled on what were essentially ‘paper parks’, conservation areas without neither patrol staff nor operation budget, areas animals could easily disappear without anyone noticing.
In addition to this, the usual human-wildlife conflict had taken its toll, as human populations have squeezed the carnivores into a habitat that is 1.1% of the original. And as if that is not enough, the trade in bushmeat is particularly endemic, with hunters sourcing bushmeat to be sold in Nigeria from as far away as Burkina Faso.
The confluence of such factors have all acted to confine these lions in just 4 conservation areas, down from 21 in 2005.
If nothing is done to abate the steady decline of West African lions, the researchers forecast that the subspecies could become extinct in 5 years.
By Matengo Chwanya
Sources: News.nationalgeographic/ Universityherald/ BBC/