Lion (Panthera leo)
The lion is one of the four big cats in the genus Panthera, a member of the family Felidae and used to range all over Africa, The Middle East, Asia and Europe. Currently, populations are restricted to Sub-Sahara Africa and India . A distinction is made in two different sub species, the African lion Panthera leo leo and the Asiatic lion Panthera leo persica
All remaining African lions are considered genetically monotypic, although recent genetic research shows that lions in West and Central Africa may be more related with Asiatic lions than with lions in East and South Africa. Lions are protected from international trade under Annex II of CITES. The African lion is classified ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. Estimations of the lion population in Africa used to range from 30,000 to 100,000 individuals. More recently these numbers varied from 16,500 to 23,000, of which half of the population (8,000-18,000) exists in Tanzania. Panthera leo leo, the African lion, is the only member of the Felidae that lives and hunts in social units also known as “prides”. On average the body weight of males varies between 150-250 kg, while for females this lies between 120-182 kg. Life expectancy in the wild is 10-14 years. They typically inhabit savanna and grassland, although they may also occur in dense bushland and forest. Lions are unusually social compared to other cats. A pride of lions consists of related females and offspring and a small number of adult males. Groups of female lions typically hunt together, preying mostly on large ungulates. The lion is regarded as a keystone species and decline of this top-predator is in many cases indicative of ecosystem degradation.
West - and Central Africa
Lions in Central and Western Africa are classified in as ‘Regionally Endangered’. In Central and Western Africa only 1,800 lions are left and populations are fragmented and declining.
Only a few lion populations remain in protected areas, with the largest in the Central African Republic (300), and second largest in Cameroon (260). Prey preferences differ between different lion populations in Africa. In Eastern and Southern Africa, 35% of prey is medium size (50-200 kg) and 65% is large (> 200 kg) whereas in West and Central Africa, 49% of prey is medium size and 51% is large. In the presence of geographical variation West African lions may be considerably smaller than their East and South African counterparts, although more data are needed to support this hypothesis. East and South African lions can weigh up to 230 kg while in Waza National Park (Cameroon, West-Africa) males are smaller, around 160 kg. The females are also smaller with their 110 kg compared to around 160 kg in East and South Africa.
- Prey depletion
- Small lion p opulation size and its inherent extinction risks
- Human-lion conflict, retaliatory or pre-emptive killing by pastoralists.
- Habitat fragmentation, degradation and conversion
Livestock owners may lose part of their stock to carnivores around national parks in the region, although studies indicate that losses through diseases are often more significant. Poaching and poisoning in retaliation to livestock loss has resulted in a significant reduction and fragmentation of lion populations, in combination with other threats such as a decrease in prey numbers, local inbreeding, and habitat destruction. Particularly the savannah belt of West- and Central Africa is an ecosystem with widespread extensive animal husbandry, and livestock production is an essential part of local livelihoods. As a result of a fast growing human population in these areas, lion population numbers have reduced and populations are isolated in scattered protected areas.