West African lions on verge of extinction, report says

Conservation group LionAid says as few as 645 lions remain in the wild in western and central Africa

Lions in Botswana. LionAid estimates there are 15,000 wild lions left in the whole of Africa, compared to 200,000 30 years ago. Photograph: Frans Lanting/Corbis

It is known for its vibrant culture, oil wealth and huge human population, but few people associate Nigeria with lions. Now a report says the almost forgotten species of west African lions found in countries such as Nigeria are on the verge of extinction following a decline in recent years.

The UK-based conservation group LionAid says as few as 645 lions remain in the wild in western and central Africa. It says lions are extinct in 25 African nations and virtually extinct in 10, and it estimates that 15,000 wild lions remain on the continent as a whole, compared with about 200,000 30 years ago.

“There has been a catastrophic decline in the populations of lions in Africa, and particularly west Africa,” said Dr Pieter Kat, trustee of LionAid. “These lions have been neglected for a very long time and do not have adequate protection programs. They are in real danger of extinction.”

The report says west Africa faces particular challenges due to high levels of poverty, lack of political interest in conservation and an underdeveloped wildlife tourism industry.

“Even though the national parks in west Africa contain very distinct and very important fauna compared to eastern Africa, people tend to ignore that west Africa is a very special place,” Kat said. “As a result the populations in west Africa are declining so quickly, as a biologist I would say that in a country like Nigeria, which has only 34 lions left, they are already extinct. It’s almost impossible to build up a population from such a small number.”

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