By 2035, African lion populations in West-Central Africa will be cut in half, based upon a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also believe East Africa’s lion populations will shrink by 50 percent over the next 20 years, although in this case they estimate there is a 37 percent chance, while West-Central Africa has a 67 percent chance of the worst case scenario. The lion study also analyzed what is driving the lion extinct.
In June of 2015, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the lion species as part of a “red list,” which features species facing potential survival threats over the long term. While not quite endangered yet, the African lion populations have dropped, and the conservation group believes the growth of human cities within the habitats of lions is one of the major issues.
“The Lion population is inferred to have undergone a reduction of approximately 42 [percent] over the past 21 years (approximately three Lion generations, 1993-2014),” the IUCN stated, according to Lion Alert.
All in all, the world lion population is estimated to be less than 20,000 lions remaining, although earlier estimates confidently stated that around 30,000 lions remained. As a comparison, in 1980, it was estimated that more than 80,000 lions roamed free in the wild within 27 countries. They also say there is a growing trade in lion body parts, in both Africa and Asia, for traditional medicine, so it is possible the decline could sharpen.
When it comes to future predictions of the African lion populations, 2035 is expected to be a marker year for the species. The lion study projects that lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa are likely to suffer a projected 50 percent decline over the next two decades. Some lion populations have already disappeared already, and it is expected that we will see the lion extinct soon in more countries as time progresses.
In fact, the lion study notes the “rapid disappearance of lions suggests a major trophic downgrading of African ecosystems with the lion no longer playing a pivotal role as apex predator.”
The only good news is that African lion populations are actually increasing in certain countries. For example, the research team says the southern African countries of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa are doing “extremely well,” and conservation parks are seeing their numbers increase.
“[T]he intensively managed populations in southern Africa may soon supersede the iconic Savannah landscapes in East Africa as the most successful sites for lion conservation,” the lion study explains. “[L]ion conservation is successful in southern Africa, in part because of the proliferation of reintroduced lions in small, fenced, intensively managed, and funded reserves.”
The stark contrast in the changes to the African lion populations can largely be traced back to how they are managed. East Africa is in danger of losing their lions precisely because the organizations responsible for helping prevent the lions’ extinction are inadequate. Part of the reason for the difference is that South Africa intensely controls the lions, while other African countries let the lions roam free in the wild as they have since time immemorial, which puts them in danger of being poached.
“If management budgets for wild lands cannot keep pace with mounting levels of threat, the species may rely increasingly on these southern African areas and may no longer be a flagship species of the once vast natural ecosystems across the rest of the continent,” the lion study explained.
[Photo by Cameron Spencer / Getty Images]