A Species Under Threat
The lion (Panthera leo) is synonymous with wild Africa, however few people realize that illegal killing, relentless habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation has left this species teetering on the brink of extinction. Nearly a century ago, there were as many as 200,000 lions living in the wild in Africa. Today, the most recent surveys estimate that there are fewer than 30,000 lions living in the wild in Africa today.
Lions are currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species; and in West and Central Africa, the species is now classified as “Endangered.”
Lions have vanished from over 80 percent of their historic range and currently exist in 28 countries in Africa and one country in Asia (India). They are extinct in 26 countries. Only 7 countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are believed to each contain more than 1,000 lions.
Africa's lions face a three-fold threat:
- Retaliatory persecution by herders and farmers who perceive lions as a threat to their livelihood. Lions are coming into increasingly closer contact with humans, as their habitat is converted for human use, and livestock replaces their natural prey. This can fuel intense conflict situations where lions are speared, shot, or even poisoned.
- Kenya alone loses approximately 100 of its 2,000 wild lions every year due to killing by people. At this rate, lion experts believe there will be no more wild lions left in Kenya by the year 2030.
- Dramatic loss and fragmentation of habitat due to an ever-expanding agriculture frontier. This is confining lions to isolated islands of habitat, increasing their risk of extinction.
- Scarcity of wild prey due to overhunting by humans. When wild prey are over-hunted by people, lions are forced to feed on livestock, especially when cattle are poorly managed and not actively herded. This establishes a vicious cycle in which lions are forced to prey on livestock, driving further conflict with humans in which the lion ultimately loses.
“Lions have slipped under the conservation radar for too long. If we do not act now, lions will find themselves in the same dire predicament as their Asian counterpart, the tiger. Panthera is uniquely positioned through its network of partners to guide lion conservation at a rangewide scale. We need to tackle the problem at this level if we hope to ensure a future for Africa’s great cat.”
Dr. Guy Balme, Panthera's Lion Program Director
How We're Helping
Panthera’s Project Leonardo seeks to ensure the long-term survival of lions across the African continent by targeting the areas where lions are most imperiled. Our objective is to conserve the African lion in key landscapes by mitigating human-lion conflict, and building or restoring connectivity between landscapes that are critical for the lion’s survival. Conserving lions range-wide will have far-reaching impacts. In targeting vast landscapes where the threats are greatest, we also maintain ecosystem functions. By focusing on the majestic African lion, Panthera’s work will also protect many other irreplaceable species of flora and fauna on the African continent. And finally, because our work addresses the reasons that people are negatively impacted by the presence of lions, our strategy is uniquely geared to safeguarding human livelihoods and human health.
Panthera’s lion conservation projects rely on well-built partnerships with local conservation organizations, communities and governments. Panthera is working on lion conservation in: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Nigeria, West Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Project Leonardo is empowering local communities to mitigate human-lion conflicts by improving their livestock management practices, reducing illegal hunting of lions and encouraging villagers to tap into conservation’s financial and social benefits.
In partnership with the Living with Lions organization, Panthera developed the unique Lion Guardians Program in southern Kenya to address retaliatory and traditional spearing of lions by Maasai warriors. The program involves training local Maasai warriors to respond to conflict situations; they become the front line in reducing human-lion conflicts by informing herders of areas occupied by lions, helping farmers improve their cattle husbandry and track down lost livestock, and by discouraging other Maasai warriors from hunting lions in the future.
Read Panthera's Lion Report Card: The State of the Lion.
Read Panthera's Lion Brochure: Project Leonardo: Saving Africa's Lions