King of the Jungle, the lion, is on the brink of no return as some of their populations are too small and fragmented to survive.
A major new study published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, reveals alarming data about dwindling lion populations in Africa but gives new insight into conservation strategies.
Less than half of the 62 known remaining free-ranging wild African lion populations house over 100 lions.
African lions remain in only 25 countries and nearly half of these nations have fewer than 250 of the big cats. Eight countries now house only a single wild lion population.
Although the total African population may be estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000 individuals, there is concern that these small, fragmented populations and countries with few individuals will disappear.
With human-induced threats like habitat loss, prey depletion, and human-wildlife conflict, lions are increasingly being pushed to the brink.
The study was led by Professor Amy Dickman of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford and Sam Nicholson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, along with 32 additional coauthors from around the world.
The team mapped lion populations across the continent, including in Ethiopia, Benin and Sudan and explored how these populations are also victims of politics.
Senior study author Dr. Andrew Jacobson of Catawba College in North Carolina, said: ‘Both Sudan and Benin have a single known lion population each, that have approximately the same number of lions.
“However, Benin’s lone population is part of a much larger transfrontier conservation area shared with two other countries, and Benin is a relatively more stable and prosperous country than Sudan.
“Sudan’s lone population is also contiguous with a lion population in another country Ethiopia, however, the country is involved in a civil war with people fleeing in the millions.
“The war and instability undercuts the ability of park rangers or others to help ensure the continuation of Sudan’s lions.
“This comparison demonstrates how when evaluating investments into protecting lions, both ecological and socio-political factors must be considered.”
It is populations such as these that are most at risk of disappearing.
Dickman said: “Lions are one of the most iconic species in the world but are undergoing devastating declines.
“This comprehensive analysis is the first to look at both ecological and socio-political risk factors facing lions at scale.
“Conservation science is important to guide action but this research highlights the invaluable role that politicians, economists, development experts and others must play if we are to safeguard lions and other biodiversity.”
It is hoped their analysis could provide a guide for conservationists, policymakers, and investors to allocate resources most effectively towards saving Africa’s lions.
They came up with a fragility index score for each population of the big cats based on human and ecological pressures.
Dickman added: ‘Some populations may ultimately have similar fragility scores, but they are driven by different threats.
“Thus, while on the surface, the lone lion populations in Sudan and Benin may appear similar, they likely require different levels of investment and perhaps even different types of intervention for conservation to succeed.
“Pouring money into conserving Sudan’s lions may be relatively ineffective unless the socio-political factors such as the civil war are dealt with first.
“Thus, stakeholders, investors and conservation groups must be aware of these differences when approaching lion conservation and evaluating how much money, time or other investment may be needed to see success.”
Co-lead author Sam Nicholson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said: ‘This research is the first of its kind in bringing together both ecological and socio-political factors into a single index to evaluate potential conservation investments for African lions.
“This is critical because the challenges faced by lions have both ecological and socio-political roots.”
However, it’s not all bleak news as populations in Senegal and Mozambique have increased with proper conservation
Previous estimates suggest more than $1 billion may be needed annually to maintain the existing lion populations within protected areas, however, the researchers estimate that the cost of protecting all the remaining African lions is closer to $3 billion a year.
Produced in association with SWNS Talker