Environment, Science

The pride of the lions could be at stake

The unmistakable call of the lion that reverberates through the savannah landscape is soon to be an echo of the past. Lion are disappearing fast, soon to be resigned to zoology textbooks.

Lions - Wiki Commons Photo: Wiki Commons.

At the beginning of the twentieth century lions numbered 200,000 in Africa, but now only 30,000 remain warranting a Vulnerable to extinction category from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Currently they survive in fragmented populations encircled by an ever increasing human population where only 17% of their historic range remains.

Things are so bad the Barbary Lion is extinct in the wild and fewer than six viable populations remain in Africa. Furthermore, in Asia lions number fewer than 350 and are located only in the Gir Forest reserve where they suffer inbreeding depression increasing their risks to disease, harmful genetic traits and environmental catastrophes.

Trophy hunting is a major threat to populations as males provide paternal care. Males form coalitions which protect their pride from ranging males searching for a new territory. Removal of one of this coalition dramatically increases a prides chance of being taken over by a new male whereby young cubs not raised by that male are killed in a process called infanticide. If male lions are continually removed by hunting then the number of cubs reaching adulthood will decrease reducing the long term viability of lion populations.

Another threat to lion comes from the domestic dog. Transfer of diseases between animals called zoonosis is known to occur. In 1994 the Serengeti lion population declined by a third due to an outbreak of canine distemper that had spread from domestic dogs and hyena. In an expanding human landscape disease transfer is likely to increase.

Habitat of the lion is diminishing fast. In the Serengeti fragmentation by road building is a major threat. A proposed two lane running through the Serengeti would halt the migration of 1.3 million wildebeest. Wildebeest are a substantial prey base for lions and increased road access would lead to poaching threats.

Panthera, a non-profit big cat conservation organisation, is currently working in Africa to mitigate human lion conflicts which have driven this decline in population. It has been recognised lions cannot survive long term in a few protected areas but must be conserved range wide from the Sahel to South Africa.

Hopefully with the good work of such organisation as Panthera lions will be safe in the future but currently that future looks very shaky. For more information on lion conservation please visit the Panthera website or Facebook page.

23/04/2013

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