Nothing quite epitomizes the wildness of the ‘dark continent’ better than the African lion. For hundreds of years the lion has captivated visitors to this ancient land. Over millennia lions have been at the centre of African mythology and folklore across the continent, and today, continue to influence Africa on a monumental scale.
A ruling member of the ‘Big 5’, the lion is often the most sought after animal by tourists. Tens of millions of visitors are drawn to Africa every year by the allure of discovering the magnificent beast with the large black mane, bellowing his roar across the grassy plains.
Once ranging far and wide across the continent the lion has since been lost from over 80% of its possible range, in just 50 years.
In 1975 there was an estimated 250,000 lions in Africa, yet today the continent wide population stands at a mere 25 – 30,000 individuals. This staggering 80-90% decline combines with the fragmentation and isolation of those remaining sub-populations with little long-term viability.
Recent studies have shown lions exist in 67 areas across the continent; but only 9 countries have at least 1000 individuals and 5 countries are thought to have lost their populations entirely since 2002. Since the recognition of 86 Lion Conservation Units* in 2006, following the IUCN Regional Lion Conservation Workshops, 18 have been declared extinct in countries such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Malawi.
In West and Central Africa populations are deemed ‘Regionally Critically Endangered'; the remaining c. 2800 individuals continue to decline at an alarming rate.
In Kenya, a country so nostalgic of the regal lion and still considered a top wildlife destination; lions are perishing by c. 100 individuals each year due to severe human-wildlife conflict. Lion conservationists fear that lions could go extinct in the country within a matter of years.
Today the lion is threatened with:
- Habitat loss
- Prey loss
- Human-wildlife conflict
- Unsustainable trophy hunting practices
Should populations continue to decline and the magnitude of threats continue to intensify the extinction of the African lion is imminent.
* Lion Conservation Unit: ‘An area of known, occasional and/or possible lion range that can be considered an ecological unit of importance‘
Image: © Rae Kokeš