Lions vanishing from parts of Africa: Study

A photo of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion taken in 2012. The big cat made headlines this year after it was killed outside its protected area by an American hunter.
A photo of Cecil the Zimbabwean lion taken in 2012. The big cat made headlines this year after it was killed outside its protected area by an American hunter.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Major conservation effort needed to prevent extinction; US taking steps to curb hunting

WASHINGTON • Lion populations throughout many parts of Africa have declined sharply since the early 1990s and are likely to shrink again by half over the next two decades unless a major conservation effort is mounted to save them, a new study has found.

The study, which analysed data from 47 of the 67 African lion populations, totalling an estimated 8,221 lions, found pronounced reductions in west and central African populations. In two national parks, Comoe and Mole, the animals appeared to have disappeared.

There were less drastic, but still substantial, declines in the east African countries where lions have traditionally thrived. Overall, the African lion population in these regions has decreased about 50 per cent since 1993, said Mr Luke Hunter, president of Panthera, an organisation focused on the global conservation of big cats, and one of eight authors of the study, which was published this week in the journal Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

By contrast, most populations in southern Africa remained stable, or even increased, over the same time period. Lion experts attributed the stability in southern countries to a lower density of humans, the establishment of fenced wildlife preserves that protect lions and humans, and national policies that have given ownership of wildlife - and the profits from tourism or legal hunting - to landowners and communities.

About 20,000 lions remain in all of Africa, according to estimates.

RUSH OF HUNTERS

Guys fearing that they'll never get their opportunity to get a lion, they're getting it while the getting's good. The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, 'Man, get it now'.

MR AARON NEILSON, an African safari broker based in Colorado

The threats to the lion's survival have grown along with the human population in many African nations. Poorly regulated trophy hunting has added to the problem in some countries. Big-game hunters are killing African lions in record numbers as US regulators threaten to curtail one of the world's most exclusive, expensive and controversial pursuits.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service will tomorrow make a final determination on the status of the African lion, which it has proposed to list as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has also recommended implementing a special permit to import lion trophies.

Those findings could curtail the number of slain lions entering the United States, while also driving up safari costs that are often more than US$100,000 (S$139,000).

That has led to a rush of Americans taking their guns to Africa in pursuit of the king of the jungle. Last year, Americans imported a record 745 African lions as trophies, up 70 per cent since 2011 and more than double the total in 2000, according to data from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Guys fearing that they'll never get their opportunity to get a lion, they're getting it while the getting's good," said Mr Aaron Neilson, an African safari broker based in Colorado. "The overall consensus among everybody selling lion hunts has been, 'Man, get it now'."

NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Lions vanishing from parts of Africa: Study'. Print Edition | Subscribe