Although the lion is one of Africa’s most iconic animals, few people realize that illegal killing, relentless habitat loss and depletion of their natural prey has left this species teetering precariously on the brink of extinction.
The lion, Africa’s largest carnivore, is in jeopardy. Easily seen in a handful of game parks, it is almost unthinkable to imagine the lion as a species requiring urgent conservation attention. Yet lions are disappearing. Only a century ago, there were as many as 200,000 wild lions in Africa. Today, the latest surveys estimate that there are fewer than 30,000. Lions are classified as globally “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In West and Central Africa, they are now considered “Regionally Endangered”.
Africa’s lions face a three-fold threat:
- Persecution by herders and farmers. Lions and people are on a collision course as natural habitat is converted for human use, and livestock replaces natural prey. This fuels intense conflict situations where lions are speared, shot or, worst of all, poisoned.
- Kenya alone loses at least 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by people. At this rate, there will be no more wild lions in Kenya by 2030.
- Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat due to an ever-expanding agricultural frontier. Lions have vanished from over 80% of their historical range.
- Lions are now extinct in 26 countries that they formerly inhabited.
- Only 7 countries - Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe - are thought to each protect more than 1,000 lions.
- A sharp decline in natural prey due to overhunting by humans. This establishes a vicious cycle in which lions are forced to prey on livestock, driving further conflict with humans in which the lion is always the loser.
Project Leonardo is Panthera’s solution to protecting and increasing the world’s remaining lion populations. Despite the severity and extent of the threats to wild lions, hope remains. Humans and lions both evolved in Africa and have shared their homes for millennia. The key is fostering, or in some cases merely reviving, the solutions that local people need to live in close proximity to Africa’s great cat.
Africa’s parks protect vital core populations of lions that are essential for their conservation, but reserves and national parks, in isolation, no longer guarantee the long-term survival of the species. Many areas set aside to protect lions and other wildlife are now occupied by people. Even well-protected parks have human populations living on their boundaries, where the conflict with lions, and their decline, is the greatest.
This is why Panthera focuses on the most important areas for lions under the greatest threat - Lion Conflict Landscapes. We identify and survey Lion Conflict Landscapes across the range of the species, from Senegal to South Africa. We then introduce tools and techniques that mitigate conflict between lions and people, and prevent the reasons that people kill lions.
This is the first time a conservation plan has been envisioned for lions across their entire African range. Panthera’s vision entails keeping lions in areas where they are most rapidly declining, and building or shoring up corridors to guarantee safe passage between key lion populations.
Panthera's Lion Footprint
Panthera’s task in Africa is enormous. We are committed to conserving lions at a scale that has not yet been attempted, and we are uniquely positioned to do so with our far-reaching network of on-the-ground experts and decades of expertise. Panthera works from both directions: bottom-up with communities, governments, park guards, and teachers, and top-down with policy-makers, heads of wildlife and environment agencies, presidents and prime ministers. We are teaming up with local partners and providing them with the training and the assistance they need to effect conservation in their own countries, a vital component of any long-term conservation strategy.
Project Leonardo is working in many countries and regions to protect the African lion, including Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and West Africa.
Click here to learn about what we are doing in these areas.
Read Panthera's Lion Brochure: Project Leonardo: Saving Africa's Lions
Read Panthera's Lion Report Card: The State of the Lion.
Click here to: Meet the Lion