The Lost Lions – Lions in Ethopia and Sudan

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This camera trap image shows a lion in Alatash National Park in Ethiopia, the first proof of their existence there. Photo by Born Free

In 50 years, the Lion population in Africa has rapidly declined from over 200,000 individuals in the 1960’s to fewer than 25,000 today. The rate of decline is further accelerating as the human population of Africa grows and lion habitat is lost. There are numerous threat to lions including:

  • habitat loss
  • prey decline
  • conflict with human and livestock populations
  • fewer protected areas
  • trophy hunting
  • canine distemper and tuberculosis
Lion populations in African countries

Lions’ current range has shrunk to eight percent of their historic homeland, and their population is thought to have declined by 50 to 75 percent since 1980, to less than 20,000, due to problems such as habitat loss, poaching, and other conflicts with people.

Lions used to roam across most of Africa. Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and Congo are among the latest countries to declare their lion populations extinct. It is expected that in the next ten years, that Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda will also lose their populations.

Wildlife conservationists supported by Born Free, with Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit released a report Monday, declaring the presence of a lion population in Ethiopia and Dinder National Park in Sudan.

The discovery of a population previously thought to be extinct came during an expedition into the heart of Alatash National Park in North West Ethiopia, on the Ethiopia-Sudan border led by Dr Hans Bauer, a renowned lion conservationist working for Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) only considered Alatash a ‘possible range’ for the species. The team obtained camera trap images of lions and lion tracks, providing hard evidence of lions in the Ethiopian/Sudan region.

Dr Hans Bauer said “Lions are definitely present in Alatash National Park and in Dinder National Park. Lion presence in Alatash has not previously been confirmed in meetings at national or international level.

“Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder. Due to limited surface water, prey densities are low, and lion densities are likely to be low, we may conservatively assume a density in the range of one to two lions per 100 km2. On a total surface area of about 10,000 km2, this would mean a population of 100-200 lions for the entire ecosystem, of which 27–54 would be in Alatash,” he added.

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The African lion is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species

It is thought that the lion population in this area has managed to survive due to the low human population density. Unfortunately, as Luke Dollar, a big cat biologist and National Geographic explorer with the Big Cats Initiative, said, it’s also likely the lions face danger from poaching and snares set out by local people to catch other types of bushmeat, such as their prey species. “Lions are often a bycatch,” he notes.

Currently, only camera traps and tracks have been used to confirm that there are lions in this area. Further comprehensive studies with sightings and visual confirmation of the populations will be needed to support the information already gathered. Using this data may enable scientists and policy makers to better protect their lion population.

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