Updated 01:56 PM EDT, Mon, Jul 28, 2014

Survey Reveals West Africa Has Less Than 250 Lions Left in Wild

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West African Lion
(Photo : Jonas Van de Voorde/ wikipedia commons)

The king of the jungle may be disappearing from West Africa, and an extensive survey of the region has revealed that less than 250 of the mighty beasts still live in the area.

Dr Philipp Henschel, the lead scientist of the survey and Panthera's Lion Program Survey Coordinator published his results in the scientific journal PLOS ONE. Henschel and his team took six years to survey 11 countries that were thought to have wild lion populations. In a press release concerning the study Henschel revealed that once the team began their research the results were sobering, to say the least:

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"When we set out in 2006 to survey all the lions of West Africa, the best reports suggested they still survived in 21 protected areas. We surveyed all of them, representing the best remaining lion habitat in West Africa. Our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals."

The study concluded that only five West African countries now have wild lion populations. Those countries are Senegal, Nigeria and a single trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. This area is less than 50,000 square kilometers, or around half the size of New York State. The reasons behind the dwindling population of lions in West Africa including increased competition with both human and livestock populations and much of the lion's natural habitat being turned into agricultural land.

It should be noted that the lions found in West Africa are genetically distinct from the lions found in East Africa, which have much stronger population numbers. These lions found in West Africa are similar to the now extinct "Barbary Lions" that lived in North Africa and the rare Asiatic Lions found in India. Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the IUCN/SCC Cat Specialist Group explains why these rare breed of lion must be saved from extinction:

"West African lions have unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity...If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else. It makes their conservation even more urgent."
Hopefully scientists and conservationists can help West African countries save these majestic animals and keep the species going for future generations to enjoy.

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