Devastating Study Suggests West African Lions Almost Extinct
by Masha Vodyanyk, age 16
studies indicate that the elusive West African lion may be more
endangered than previously thought. For six years, Phillip Henschel,
Lion Program Survey Coordinator for the big-cat conservation program
Panthera, and his team searched for this rare species. The team's
results suggest that the population of this sub-species is
approximately 400 lions--only 250 of which are mature and breeding.
Henschel began this research, scientists believed that West African
lions lived in 21 different protected areas. It has now been
discovered, though, that this species lives in only four of these
sites. The nations in which the West African lion does reside are
some of the least developed countries in the world and thus have
little to no money for animal conservation, national park security
patrols, enforcement, and management of endangered species. Often,
these parks are referred to as "paper parks"--areas
protected only in name.
Protection is needed for these lions, however, because they face many stressors
in their habitats. Domesticated cattle frequently overrun the parks;
herders have admitted to carrying poison to kill lions that may
attack their herds; and some groups even kill lions because they
consider them pests.
of Henschel's study indicate that approximately 350 West African
lions reside in a group of parks across the borders of Benin,
Burkina Faso, and Niger. Other parks in Senegal and Nigeria are
estimated to hold fewer than 50 West African lions. Due to the
dwindling population numbers of these creatures, researchers rarely
saw any actual evidence of them.
the South African lion population of 35,000, Asian lions in India are
critically endangered. In fact, this sub-species consists of 450
animals--a figure only slightly higher than the population of the
West African lion. Henschel's team also reported that the density of
the West African lion was about one lion per 100 square kilometers,
in comparison to a density 15 times greater for the East African
the shocking results of this survey, its conclusions helped Henschel
and his team locate the last of the West African lions. Their primary
research goal going forward is to protect the areas in which the
remaining lions live.
that this massive survey effort has been concluded," Henschel
said, "we finally know where lions remain and where we need to
invest our efforts to save them."