A team of scientists from global wild cat conservation organisation Panthera, Oxford University's WildCRU, Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, IUCN Species Survival Commission Cat Specialist Group, and the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota estimated the trajectory of lion populations by compiling and analysing regional population trend data for 47 different lion populations across Africa. The analysis showed that whereas most lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa are declining, increases in lion populations occurred in four southern countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Lead author Dr Hans Bauer of WildCRU said: 'These findings clearly indicate that the decline of lions can be halted, and indeed reversed as in southern Africa. Unfortunately, lion conservation is not happening at larger scales, leading to a vulnerable status of lions globally. In fact, the declines in many countries are quite severe and have enormous implications.
Dr Luke Hunter, President and Chief Conservation Officer of Panthera and a co-author, said: 'We cannot let progress in southern Africa lead us into complacency. Many lion populations are either gone or expected to disappear within the next few decades. The lion plays a pivotal role as the continent's top carnivore, and the free-fall of Africa's lion populations we are seeing today could inexorably change the landscape of Africa's ecosystems.'
The authors note that conservation efforts in southern Africa are successful for a number of reasons, including low human density, significant resources, and perhaps most importantly, the reintroduction of lions in small, fenced and intensively managed and funded reserves. Dr Paul Funston, Senior Director of Panthera's Lion Program, said: 'If we don't address these declines urgently, and at a massive scale, the intensively managed populations in southern Africa will be a poor substitute for the freely roaming lion populations in the iconic savannahs of East Africa. In our view, that’s not an option.'
The full paper, 'Lion (Panthera leo) populations are declining rapidly across Africa, except in intensively managed areas', appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).