An Expedition in Ethiopia Just Led To The Discovery Of 200 Hidden Lions

The Lion population in Africa has long been stated to be on the decline and research has shown that in the last 20 years, the population has shrunk by about 42 percent, a number that hinted extinction was the only outcome. However, for the first time in the careers of many conservationists, they have some very positive news as over 100 new lions were just discovered in Ethiopia.

A remote region of north-west Ethiopia was announced to be the location where researchers discovered a previously unknown population of lions that evidence indicates contains at least 100, and possibly even 200, lions. The lions are said to all be in stable condition and Science Alert reported that expedition leader, Hans Bauer from the University of Oxford, expressed great joy in the discovery.

“During my professional career I have had to revise the lion distribution map many times. I have deleted one population after the other. This is the first and probably the last time that I’m putting a new one up there.”

The Alatash National Park, located on the border of Ethiopia and Sudan had apparently long been thought to be a potential habitat for lions, but the remoteness of the area had prevented researchers from finding any real evidence of the species in the past. The Alatash is actually situated right next to an even bigger national park on the Sudan side of the border called Dinder National Park, and the current assumption among researchers and conservationists was that lions are extinct in Sudan is being challenged as false since Bauer’s report shows that the estimated 200 lions are living between the two parks.

“Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder.”

Bauer and his colleagues opportunity to learn that there is truth to the possibility of lions existing in the remote area came by way of an expedition funded by the Born Free Foundation, a D.C.-based charity. Bauer’s team arrived at the large figure of 200 lions when estimating the population by calculating the water which is available in the two parks, the possibility of preys (which is pretty low), and the overall average range that each lion needs.

Finding evidence of the lions’ existence actually came easier than the researchers had anticipated. Bauer reports that on the very first day he was setting up the cameras, he spotted lion tracks. Visual evidence was obtained on the second night of filming when his night-vision cameras captured a female lion roaming near the river bed.

Quartz Africa wrote that efforts of the Born Free Foundation and the individual groups involved in discovering the lions will now turn to protecting the lions from the threat of poaching. Poaching still remains a major problem worldwide and trophy hunting became a global topic after an American dentist killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe last year. In response to the global attention the American authorities have classified lions as an endangered species thus making it harder to import lion trophies into the country. France also placed a ban on the importation of lion trophies.

With only 20,000 lions left in the wild across the African Continent, populations have been predicted to decline by more than half within the next 20 years. It is hoped that this new population of lions will be more protected since they are further from human development and Bauer hopes that protection of the animals will be taken seriously.

[Photo courtesy of Themba Hadebe/ AP Images]