Johannesburg - There are only around 22 509 wild lions left in Africa, according to a recent draft analysis on the fragility of the continent’s lion populations.
The draft report titled State of the Lion: Fragility of a Flagship Species, by Amy Dickman and Amy Hinks from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford, says wild lions have vanished from 95% of their historic range.
In countries like Malawi, the approximate wild lion population is five, 30 in Nigeria, 25 in Angola, 22 in Rwanda and 20 in Niger. Countries with larger populations include Tanzania (8176), Kenya (1825), Mozambique (1295), South Africa (2070), Zimbabwe (1709) and Zambia (1095).
The study notes how there are more wild rhinos than wild lions, 14 times more African elephants and wild gorillas than wild lions and nearly 350 000 people for every one wild lion.
It finds that 40% of current wild lion range is in protected areas while 14% of wild lion populations don’t overlap at all with protected areas.
The major threats to Africa’s lions are the loss and degradation of habitat, bushmeat snaring, and conflict with people when lions threaten them or their livestock, says Dickman.
“Protected areas are key to maintaining habitat, so they need to be properly funded and well-managed. However, around half of lion range is outside protected areas, so that will not be sufficient alone.”
Bushmeat snaring can be addressed by investing in alternative protein sources if driven by food insecurity, and by demand reduction and anti-poaching initiatives if driven by commercial trade.
Reducing human-lion conflict entails ensuring the local benefits of lion presence outweigh the costs, which is currently not true in most areas, says Dickman, the founder and director of the Ruaha Carnivore Project.
The project works to improve the status of carnivore populations and local communities around Ruaha National Park, the largest in East Africa but poorly known, with relatively few visitors.
“The landscape maintains some of the most important large carnivore populations in the world, particularly lions, cheetahs and African wild dogs.
“These carnivores rely on village land outside the unfenced park, where they impose major costs on local people without providing benefits. This has led to high levels of carnivore killing, so we work with villagers to protect livestock, increase conservation engagement and develop benefit initiatives which are directly linked to wildlife presence.
“Our work has been successful, although there is much more to be done, and we are now working to maintain it and even expand the approaches elsewhere in Tanzania and beyond.”