Lions symbolize power and strength and are synonymous with the wild. Yet few realize that these big cats have undergone a catastrophic range reduction and have declined to only about 20,000. Enough habitat still occurs to substantially recover these numbers but we must act now.
The State of the Lion
Lions have indeed undergone catastrophic declines since the commercialization of livestock ranching and agriculture in Africa, and are now only secure in a handful of and are on the brink of extinction in all but the largest and best-managed protected areas. Outside of these places, lions are in grave trouble. However, with funding, capacity improvement and strong policy, they could make a spectacular recovery and become important assets to rural economies.
We will never know just how many lions there were, but measured trends in recent decades are alarming. Today, lions are extinct in 26 African countries, have vanished from over 95 percent of their historic range, and experts estimate that there are only about 20,000 left in the wild. Though lions still exist in 28 African countries and one Asian country, only six protected area complexes are known to support more than 1,000 lions. Thankfully there they remain safe for the foreseeable future, but in about 60 other protected areas the situation is far less secure.
Lions are currently listed as "Vulnerable" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. In West Africa, the species is now classified as "Critically Endangered”. Any further rapid reclines may see lions listed as “Endangered” across their range.
Lions are most significantly impacted by illegal bushmeat hunting and body part trade, conflict with local people due to livestock depredation, habitat loss and fragmentation and to a lesser extent by unsustainable trophy hunting. The rise of poaching for body parts is especially alarming and might mean the end of many smaller less well-protected lion populations.
“Protected areas are at the heart of the formula to save Africa’s lions, and to ensure the species lives on, lions and their wild landscapes require nothing short of a wealthy and immediate investment from the global community and a restructuring of the policy environment in most range states," - Dr. Paul Funston, Lion Program Director.
Across the vast continent of Africa, lions have been extirpated from over 90% of their historic range.
As Africa’s human population increases and lion habitat is converted for their use, lions and humans come in increasingly closer contact. Livestock replaces the lion’s natural prey, fueling human-lion conflict in which lions are killed in response to the real and perceived threat they pose to human lives and livelihoods.
Poachers focus on the large bodied prey species that lions favor leading to starvation of cubs and subadults and lions getting caught in snares or gin traps as indirect bycatch. However, increasingly poachers are also specifically targeting lions for bones and body parts for limited local trade but hugely expanding Asian trade. Without adequate protection of lions in Africa’s protected areas against poaching, all other threats will become obsolete as there won’t be any lions left.
Obliterated in most human landscapes more than a century ago there are nevertheless many areas in Africa and Asia where lion populations either interface with or rarely exist amongst humans and their livestock. With human and livestock population increasing, this interface is possibly more fraught than ever and in the equation lions are generally the losers. In severe cases livestock replace the lion’s natural prey, fueling human-lion conflict with lions killed in response to the real and perceived threat they pose to human lives and livelihoods.
Habitat Loss and Conversion
As Africa’s human population grows and land is converted for agricultural and other developments, lion habitat is fragmented and lost. Communities whose livestock graze within protected areas present a real concern in many localities. Nevertheless, enough undisturbed lion range exists for lion numbers to bounce back if we can implement changes to policy and successfully mitigate poaching and conflict.
10 African countries and 8 in which surveys have been undertaken
Recover Africa’s lions to a minimum of 30,000 by 2030
Through Project Leonardo, Panthera aims to bring lion populations back to a minimum of 30,000 individuals by 2030 by protecting and connecting key lion populations throughout their range in Africa. Lions are being secured by collaborating with local governments, communities and NGOs. Panthera works primarily to secure lions in key sites and limit trade in their prey and body parts, mitigating the risk of lions to livestock owners and influencing policy around the decision making and benefits to local peoples.
Panthera is a much-appreciated partner of the Kwando Carnivore Project in Namibia’s, Zambezi Region. Panthera has willingly and generously offered its world-renowned expertise and professionalism in cat conservation, to the lions, wildlife and people of the Kwando Wildlife Dispersal Area and allowed have my project to leverage substantial additional funding and support. Panthera is always there to call on and are integral partners in recovering lion and other cat populations in the Kwando landscape.
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Tom Kaplan Talks Lion Conservation with CNN's Richard Quest
Ahead of the release of The Lion King remake, Panthera Chairman and Co-Founder Dr. Thomas S. Kaplan chatted all things lion with Richard Quest on CNN International’s ‘Quest Means Business’ program. Watch the interview to learn about the largely unknown conservation crisis facing Africa’s lions, Panthera’s partnership with Disney through the #ProtectThePride campaign, and some of our critical protective work and wins in Zambia and Namibia to protect the King of Beasts.