On Thursday, December 7, National Geographic released an important story about the forgotten lions of West Africa. Written by journalist and conservationist Micheal Schwartz, it is an informative article about a population of lions that desperately needs more attention.
Schwartz starts by outlining why lions are faring more poorly in West Africa than they are in East and Southern Africa. Much of West Africa was colonized by France, and their rule caused great ecological harm. The French had little interest in wildlife conservation, and all of the current protected areas in West Africa were established after independence. In addition, the disease-bearing tsetse flies that made it harder for Europeans to exploit some areas in East Africa were not present in the West.
On top of West Africa’s colonial history (and I suspect partly because of it), many of the governments in the western portion of Africa have little money to spare for conservation. This spells bad news for West Africa’s lions, who are a unique subspecies (Panthera leo leo) that is more closely related to the lions of India’s Gir Forest than to the lions of East and Southern Africa.
In 2014, Panthera’s Philipp Henschel and his colleagues estimated that between 250-500 lions remained in West Africa. Henschel’s work, and the work of other conservationists, helped to bring attention to the plight of West Africa’s lions. Furthermore, there are some protected areas in West Africa that could foster lion recovery. But more needs to be done.
Conservation in West Africa is massively under-funded. The region’s poverty encourages people to poach lions and other animals, and it prevents governments from being able to do much about threats to wildlife. According to Henschel, more people need to know about the challenges facing people and wildlife in West Africa.
As such, I urge you to read Michael Schwartz’s crucial story. Once you have done so, please share it widely. You and I might be able to make a few more people aware of the need to invest more time and money into conserving the unique lions of West Africa.