Study shows lion population plummeting as habitat disappears

 

The savannah habitat that sustains African lions has shrunk by 75 percent over the past half-century, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, a dramatic loss that could threaten the species' survival.

The analysis by American, African and British researchers — which suggests that the continent's lion population has declined from 100,000 to roughly 32,000 over 50 years — provides a clear picture of where the animals now live and how major land-use changes and population growth have put them in jeopardy.

"It's a shock," said Stuart Pimm, a professor for conservation ecology at Duke University and one of the paper's authors. "Savannah Africa has been massively reduced. . . . As [people] moved in, lions have been hunted out."

The findings come just one week after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will study whether African lions should be listed under the Endangered Species Act, a move that would end the importation of trophies into the United States. Several groups petitioned the agency last year to list the species, though some conservationists argue that trophy hunting provides a source of revenue to local communities, which helps keep savannah habitat intact.

Thomas Lovejoy, a professor in science and public policy at George Mason University, said the paper's authors "have made a historical contribution" by showing how dramatically Africa's viable terrain for lions has declined in recent decades. Lions used to roam much of Africa and Eurasia but are now limited to sub-Saharan Africa. A small population of a separate species inhabits the Gir Forest National Park of India.

Lovejoy said the fact that savannah habitat loss is outpacing the decline of the world's tropical rain forests "is terrifying when combined with the prospects of population growth and land-use change in Africa."

To reach their assessment, the paper's lead author, Jason Riggio, who received his master's degree from Duke, assembled a team of graduate students to examine high-resolution satellite imagery of Africa from Google Earth to determine what could qualify as suitable lion habitat. They then compared that information with existing lion population data, concluding that there are only 67 isolated areas in Africa where lions might survive.

Part of the challenge lions face is that when they venture outside national parks, they may kill livestock and come into conflict with humans, Pimm said.

Lovejoy said he was optimistic that sufficient public pressure will build for U.S. officials to take action. The officials will decide within a year whether to list African lions as endangered.

"This is something the public can easily get," he said, adding that lions are the kind of "animal cracker animals" everyone has revered since childhood.

The study does not, however, answer one of the central questions federal officials must answer: whether trophy hunting helps or undermines the species' ultimate survival.

Jeff Flocken, Washington office director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said Americans are responsible for importing 64 percent of the lions hunted for sport in Africa and that the practice destabilizes prides..

But hunting groups such as Safari Club International and some environmental organizations say a trophy ban could have unintended consequences.

Luke Hunter, president of the wild cat conservation group Panthera, said that even though he finds lion hunting "ridiculous and abhorrent, as a scientist, I have to ask myself whether it can be a tool for conservation."

While current studies suggest African lion hunting "is unsustainable," Hunter added, ending it could accelerate the large-scale land conservation that poses the greatest threat to lions. "The danger is you stop that revenue stream, all those areas are up for grabs."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power