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Lions gradually in extinction in West Africa

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By Mercy Kelani

Reports have it that there are 15,000 lions in Africa, and 34 in Nigeria.

Lion, Panthera leo, is one of the world’s most popular and charismatic species. It is usually found in Nigeria, and some other parts of West Africa and Central Africa. However, a report made it clear that this species of animal is on the brink of extinction. A UK-based conservation group LionAid recently gave a report that states that the lions remaining in the wild in western and central Africa are as few as 645.

The report further states that lions are already extinct in 25 African countries and virtually extinct in 10 other African countries; 34 are left in Nigeria. While in the African continent, an estimate of 15,000 wild lions are remaining, compared to 200,000 in the past three decades. Lions, despite being under the classification of vulnerable on the IUCN Red List , have a small and fragmented population in West Africa, which have been recently classified as critically endangered.

90 percent of the original range of lion is lost in Africa.

Recently, genetic studies have introduced the difference that exists between West African and Central African lions, and South Africa and East Africa. The studies further suggest that lions in West Africa would likely merit distinct taxonomic status. Unlike the former widespread of this species, there are only two sites in the country, Kainji Lake National Park and Yankari Game Reserve, which accommodates the 34 surviving lions. Asides in these two places, there are no lions present in Nigeria.

The World Conservation Society (WCS) mentioned that over 90 percent of the original range of lion, have been lost in Africa. According to the society, the major threats confronting lions and making them extinct, are reduction of wild prey and retaliatory, habitat loss and degradation, and illegal killings of lions. Habitat loss, particularly, has led to some West African countries being depopulated and isolated. The report, however, leaves Nigeria with an estimate of fewer than 50 lions.

WCS attributes decline to increasing human population.

In addition, WCS blames the extinction of lions on increasing human populations, and the widespread of subsistence and commercial-scale Agriculture. The group also mentions Climate Change as a factor, and the absence of population connectors as a result of the expansion and spread of Agriculture, development, and huge infrastructural projects. The aforementioned factors, therefore, in their report, have led to the depopulation, fragmentation and isolation of some countries with small populations, particularly in West Africa.

Nigeria, however, links the reduction to the serious depletion of their natural prey, as a result of hunting and habitat loss. Having lost their natural prey, lions are left with the options of feeding on domestic Livestock, while in some occasions, there is the poisoning of Livestock carcasses during human-lion conflict. Likewise, rapid human population growth and agricultural growth leads to an unprecedented influx of nomadic Livestock into shielded areas as a result of the disappearance of other grazing reserves.

Communities should be made custodians of Nature.

Dr. Peter Lindsey, Director of the Lion Recovery Fund (LRF), stressed the illegality of bushmeat poaching, describing it as an unlawful medium of hunting wildlife for meat, be it for personal consumption or for sale. It is often considered illegal because the hunting is carried out within protected areas and with no license using prohibited traps and snares. He further stated that efforts should be made, to enable the engagement of neighborhood communities around protected areas to be stationed as allies in conservation and as custodians of nature.

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