Strong decline of savannah landscapes and lion populations in West and Central Africa; local lion populations are expected to go extinct in 10 years time

A group of scientists from different universities from USA, UK, South Africa and Leiden University in The Netherlands have demonstrated through a meta analysis in a publication in the Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation, based on the analysis of Google Earth satellite images, that the savannah landscapes in Africa shrank from 11.9 mio sq km in 1965 to 9.7 mio sq km in 2000.  Much of the degradation of savannah landscapes took place in West and Central Africa.

Free ranging lion populations occur in only 25% of these savannah landscapes (approximately 3.4 mio sq km). The total remaining lion population is estimated to be between 32,000 to 35,000 lions, of which less than 3000 in West and Central Africa.  The researchers conclude that lion populations in West and Central Africa show the strongest declines with recent extinctions, even in nominally protected areas. The researchers also conclude that only 24,000 lions remain in ten (10) strongholds, four in East Africa, six in South Africa and none in West and Central Africa. Over 6,000 lions are in populations doubtful long-term viability, most of them in West and Central Africa.

A recent PhD study of the Cameroonian researcher Pricelia Tumenta, who defended her thesis at Leiden Universityon11 December 2012, has demonstrated which factors contribute to the local extinctions of lions in this region. She predicts that without strong conservation measures the remaining population of 17-22 lions in Waza national park will go extinct in 10 years time.

She found that conflicts between humans and lions due to livestock predation is a key factor driving population declines of lions in Africa, especially on the edges of small protected areas without transitional buffer zones. Pastoralists around Waza National Park suffer high levels of livestock depredation, with most attacks occurring at night, increasing during full moon periods though not significantly. Consequently lions are killed in retaliation.

Lions are economically a substantial threat accounting in the Waza area for total losses of 100,000 EUR per annum (price level 2010). Per household, resident pastoralists loose one cow while nomadic pastoralists loose two cows per annum, equating to about 260 EUR and 520 EUR respectively (price level 2010).

The Waza lion population, with 17-22 lions left, which was one of the most viewed lion populations in the Central Africa region is now seems to be most threatened, concerted conservation efforts could still save this population from extirpation.

For the lion populations in West and Central Africa to be protected from complete extinction, the governments in the region have to greatly improve the park protection through the park management authority and law enforcement, as well as providing more timely the financial and human resources of the national parks.

To read the entire article click here or to read the entire study of Pricelia Tumenta click here

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