The lion is synonymous with wild Africa. Yet few realize the species has undergone catastrophic declines, from as many as 200,000 wild lions in Africa a century ago to about 20,000 today.
The State of the Lion
Lions have undergone a catastrophic decline and are on the brink of extinction in all but the largest and best managed national parks.
Just over a century ago, there were more than 200,000 wild lions living in Africa. Today, there are only about 20,000; lions are extinct in 26 African countries and have vanished from over 95 percent of their historic range. Though lions still exist in 28 African countries and one Asian country, only six countries are known to each contain more than 1,000 lions.
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.
The species is threatened by the illegal bushmeat trade, habitat loss and fragmentation, unsustainable trophy hunting, and conflict with local people due to the real or perceived threat lions pose to livestock.
“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," - Dr. Paul Funston, Southern Africa Regional 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.
Many areas set aside to protect lions and other wildlife are now occupied by people, and even well-protected parks have human populations living on their boundaries; these areas are where human-lion conflict, and lion population decline, is at its greatest.
As Africa’s human population grows and land is converted for agricultural and other developments, lion habitat is fragmented and lost. Their populations are increasingly confined to isolated islands of land, decreasing the species’ genetic diversity and increasing the lion’s risk of extinction.
The conversion of the lion’s wild habitat additionally forces lions and people into closer contact. Livestock begins to replace the lion’s natural prey, fueling human-lion conflict in which lions are killed using poison, guns, snares, and other methods, in retaliation or because of their perceived threat to human livelihood.
Rampant bushmeat poaching by local people exacerbates this conflict by depleting lions’ natural prey. In a vicious cycle, lions drawn to the calls of prey snared by poachers often become ensnared themselves, succumbing either to starvation or their fatal wounds.
Additionally, trophy hunting in nine African countries and the illegal hunting of lions for their body parts used in local and international, primarily Asian, traditional medicines are further contributing to lion population declines.
Through Project Leonardo, Panthera aims to bring lion populations back to a minimum of 30,000 individuals by protecting and connecting core lion populations throughout the species’ range in Africa, with a particular focus on large national parks. By collaborating with statutory authorities, local governments and communities, and NGOs, Panthera is working to address traditional killing of lions in local cultures, mitigate human-lion conflict, address bushmeat poaching, and reduce levels of legal trophy hunting.
Panthera is a much appreciated partner of GRI in Zambia. With its unmatched expertise in big cat conservation, our relationship with Panthera has enabled GRI to access the highest international standards of technical and scientific conservation support. Panthera field staff are engaged at all levels of our field operations and have constantly provided fundamental positive advice and contributions on a day-to-day basis.