07 Mar

Where Have Nigeria’s Lions Gone?


Last April, Panthera reported on field surveys carried out in 2009 by Panthera, WCS Nigeria and the Nigerian National Park Service, which revealed that Nigeria was then home to fewer than just 50 individual lions. Approximately 15-20 lions were estimated to live within Nigeria’s Yankari Game Reserve, while the remaining 30-35 lions were found to reside in Kainji Lake National Park in western Nigeria. These fragile populations represented two of only four known lion populations that remained in West Africa.

In order to closely monitor Nigeria’s endangered lion populations and measure the impact of ongoing conservation initiatives, Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel, and scientists from WCS Nigeria, the Nigerian National Park Service, and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture of Bauchi State conducted follow-up surveys from January to February and May to June of 2011.

Panthera, in collaboration with our partners in Nigeria, has just released a report summarizing the results of the 2011 Nigerian lion population surveys. This report reveals that in just two years time, Nigeria’s lion populations have drastically declined from an estimated 44 individual lions in 2009 to just 34 adult lions in 2011. Astonishingly, scientists estimate that fewer than 5 lions remain in the Yankari Game Reserve, which as noted above, was estimated to hold a population of 15-20 lions in 2009.

A Comparison of Nigeria's Lion Populations in 2009 and 2011

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The primary reason for the decline of Nigeria and West Africa’s lions is human-lion conflict. When overhunting occurs of the lions prey base by local people, lions often turn to an easy and available food source - people’s livestock. These scenarios rarely end well for lions, who are frequently hunted or poisoned by villagers in retribution. The growth of human populations and the expansion of agricultural developments into the lion’s habitat only serve to exacerbate this problem.

Without concerted action, it is likely that Nigeria’s lions will disappear. In response, through Project Leonardo, Panthera’s scientists are working closely with local partners in Nigeria to strengthen anti-poaching patrols in the remaining populations and to continue to track and monitor the last 34 lions estimated to remain in Nigeria.

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In the near future, Panthera’s lead field scientist in West Africa, Dr. Philipp Henschel, will conduct a large survey in West Africa which will, for the first time, establish the distribution and status of lions in the WAP Complex – a protected area in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger that is estimated to harbor the largest remaining lion population in West Africa – see map.

Be sure to check back with us for updates on Dr. Henschel’s surveys and the status of Nigeria’s lions.

To help Panthera save Africa’s lions, consider giving to our ‘Let Lions Live’ campaign.

Read Panthera’s April 2011 Newsletter article – Panthera Scientist has Rare Encounter with Regionally Endangered Nigerian Lion.

Nigerian Lion Survey Photo Gallery