Lion Habitat Vanishing Quickly in Africa's Savannahs

First Posted: Dec 05, 2012 02:37 AM EST

A lion's pride rules as royalty over the other animals in the lands of Africa. Flipping through the previous records, it is estimated that nearly 100,000 lions roamed across Africa some half a century ago.

But, however, in recent years the numbers have reduced considerably. According to a new finding, lions that roam Africa's savannahs have lost as much as 75 percent of their habitat in the last 50 years due to human encroachment and land development. Such a drastic loss poses a great threat to the species' survival.

This new report, titled as "The size of savannah Africa: A lion's (Panthera leo) view" was co-authored by Panthera's Lion Program Survey Coordinator, Dr. Philipp Henschel and a team of researchers coordinated by Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

The researchers, with the help of Google Earth's high resolution satellite imagery, carefully examined the savannah habitat across Africa, which comprises the majority of the lions' current range and also analyzed human population density data to identify areas of suitable habitat currently occupied by them. 

They noticed nearly 67 isolated regions across the continent where significant lion population may persist out if which no less than 15 were estimated to maintain a population of at least 500 lions.

"The reality is that from an original area, a third larger than the continental U. S., only 25 percent remains," explained Stuart Pimm, co-author and Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University.

In West Africa, lions are classified as regionally endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The study also confirms that less than 500 lions remain scattered across 8 isolated regions.

"Lions have been hit hardest in West Africa, where local governments often lack direct incentives to protect them," Dr. Henschel commented. "While lions generate billions of tourist dollars across Eastern and Southern Africa, spurring governments to invest in their protection, wildlife-based tourism is only slowly developing in West Africa. Currently lions still have little economic value in the region, and West African governments will require significant foreign assistance in stabilizing remaining populations until sustainable local conservation efforts can be developed."

"This research is a major step in helping prioritize funding strategies for saving big cats," study co-author Luke Dollar, the grants program director of National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative was quoted in CBS News. "Of the estimated 32,000 to 35,000 lions, more than 5,000 of them are located in small, isolated populations, putting their survival in doubt. The research will help us better identify areas in which we can make a difference."

The study is published online this week in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation.

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