As of now, African lions have lost over 90% of their historic range. Nearly 100 years ago there were as many as 200,000 wild African lions, and now that number is closer to 20,000 (Panthera, 2015b). A new study suggests the situation could become much worse.
Eight scientists from various organizations, including Oxford’s WildCRU and Panthera, co-wrote the study. They concluded that lion populations in West and Central Africa are likely to fall by 50% in the next two decades. The only region in which lion numbers are not declining is in southern Africa, thanks to intensive management schemes.
Lions have long been threatened by habitat loss, unsustainable hunting of their prey, poorly managed trophy hunting, and human-wildlife conflict (Panthera, 2015b). In recent years lions have also emerged as a substitute for tigers in Traditional Asian Medicines, since the latter species has been decimated (Loveridge, Wang, Frank, & Seidensticker, 2010).
While the above information is bleak, there is still hope. Major conservation efforts can slow lions’ decline, as is evidenced by their increase in southern Africa. But such initiatives have to be implemented now, and they have to be backed by good science.