Devastating Study Suggests West African Lions Almost Extinct

by Masha Vodyanyk, age 16

Recent studies indicate that the elusive West African lion may be more endangered than previously thought. For six years, Phillip Henschel, Lion Program Survey Coordinator for the big-cat conservation program Panthera, and his team searched for this rare species. The team's results suggest that the population of this sub-species is approximately 400 lions--only 250 of which are mature and breeding.

Before Henschel began this research, scientists believed that West African lions lived in 21 different protected areas. It has now been discovered, though, that this species lives in only four of these sites. The nations in which the West African lion does reside are some of the least developed countries in the world and thus have little to no money for animal conservation, national park security patrols, enforcement, and management of endangered species. Often, these parks are referred to as "paper parks"--areas protected only in name.

Protection is needed for these lions, however, because they face many stressors in their habitats. Domesticated cattle frequently overrun the parks; herders have admitted to carrying poison to kill lions that may attack their herds; and some groups even kill lions because they consider them pests.

Conclusions of Henschel's study indicate that approximately 350 West African lions reside in a group of parks across the borders of Benin, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Other parks in Senegal and Nigeria are estimated to hold fewer than 50 West African lions. Due to the dwindling population numbers of these creatures, researchers rarely saw any actual evidence of them.

Contrasting the South African lion population of 35,000, Asian lions in India are critically endangered. In fact, this sub-species consists of 450 animals--a figure only slightly higher than the population of the West African lion. Henschel's team also reported that the density of the West African lion was about one lion per 100 square kilometers, in comparison to a density 15 times greater for the East African lion.

Despite the shocking results of this survey, its conclusions helped Henschel and his team locate the last of the West African lions. Their primary research goal going forward is to protect the areas in which the remaining lions live.

"Now that this massive survey effort has been concluded," Henschel said, "we finally know where lions remain and where we need to invest our efforts to save them."

[Source: Scientific American]

That is sad that so few are left, and that those that are left aren't being properly protected! This article was very informative. – Rebekah S.McFarland High School (2014-10-02 17:24)