Lion populations in Africa are likely to shrink by half over the next two decades unless a concerted effort is made to conserve them, a study has found.
The study included that grim news that the number of lions in Africa has already halved since the early 1990s.
The research looked at 47 African lion populations of about 8,221 lions. It found large reductions in West and Central African populations, where in two national parks the animals appeared already to be extinct, the New York Times reports. The declines in East African countries were less drastic.
Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, an organisation which works on the global conservation of big cats and is one of the eight authors of the study, said the lion population in these regions had fallen by about 50 per cent since 1993.
The drop has been attributed to the spread of farming and other human settlements as well as the bush meat trade, which has depleted stocks of food relied on by lions. Trophy hunting was not considered a factor. About 20,000 lions remain in all of Africa, according to estimates.
The study found that there was a 67 per cent chance that the number of lions in Central and West Africa would again halve within two decades. In eastern Africa, a historical stronghold of lions, there was a 37 per cent chance.
“These declines are precipitous and will likely lead to functional extinction of many lion populations outside southern Africa,” said Matt Hayward, a researcher at England’s Bangor University, according to Newsweek.
Hans Bauer, a lion researcher at Oxford University who led the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said that the severe declines in many African countries put at risk the lion’s role as “king of the jungle”.
“We are losing all the populations which are characteristic of the pristine view of lions,” he said. “Lions roaming free, hunting wildlife across the savanna.”
In a rare piece of good news, most populations in Southern Africa remained stable or even increased.
This article was first published by The Telegraph on 27 Oct 2015.