By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
These lions were once spread out over more than 11 African nations, and the researchers presumed they still roamed the same areas when they began their study. However, after 6 years of research, the scientists found lions in only around 4 regions, and only one of these areas has more than 50 of the big cats.
“Our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals,” said Philipp Henschel, Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator and co-author of the paper.
There are more lions outside of West Africa, but they don’t have the same unique genetic make-up (DNA). “If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else,” says Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/SSC Cat Specialist Group. “It makes their conservation even more urgent.”
The researchers stress the results of their study do not reflect the current state of the lions; there may very well be even fewer lions in West Africa. If efforts to conserve the big cats are not taken immediately, the animals could disappear in as little as 5 years.