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African lion population facing 'alarming' decline


Researchers estimate there are approximately 32,000 lions currently living in Africa's savannahs (courtesy: William H. Majoros)
Researchers estimate there are approximately 32,000 lions currently living in Africa's savannahs (courtesy: William H. Majoros)

Cheryl Santa Maria, staff writer

December 9, 2012 — More than two-thirds of Africa's lion population - and 75% of the savannahs - have vanished in the past 50 years, according to a new study published in Biodiversity and Conservation.

Deforestation is one of the primary causes of the decline (courtesy: Luca Galuzzi)
Deforestation is one of the primary causes of the decline (courtesy: Luca Galuzzi)

Researchers at Duke University estimate there are approximately 32,000 lions currently living in Africa's savannahs -- down drastically from the 100,000 living in the area 50 years ago.

The study also determined there has been a drastic decline in the lion's habitat.

Only a quarter of the savannahs remain. The rest has been rendered uninhabitable due to deforestation, driven by human activity.

Researchers used satellite images from Google Earth combined with census data to draw their conclusions.

In the study, areas where lions have an "excellent chance" of survival were classified as "strongholds."

Of the 67 areas that can support wild lions, only 10 were categorized as "strongholds", the majority of them being in national parks and protected areas.

“A 75 percent reduction in extent of African savannah is stunning and grim. It emphasizes the urgency for conservation of these great habitats and their magnificent species like lions,” said conservation scientist Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor for Environmental Science and Public Policy at George Mason University, in a press briefing. 

The research was funded by National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, a campaign designed to slow, and eventually halt, the decline of wild cats on a global scale.

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