By Chandrashekar Srinivasan
It was alarming to read new research which suggests that the West African Lion may be on the verge of extinction, with just 645 members of the sub-species left in western and central Africa.
The study, carried out by conservation group LionAid, finds there are no lions at all in 25 of the region's countries, and the animal is virtually extinct in 10 others. In Nigeria, once home to a huge community of West African Lions, just 34 remain.
In total, the researchers believe no more than 15,000 wild lions remain across the whole of Africa.
A study in 2004 estimated that up to 850 West African Lions remained in the wild. If LionAid's new figures are correct, about a quarter of the population has been wiped out in less than a decade.
Analysis by Duke University used satellite imaging to confirm nearly 75 percent of Africa's savannah has been destroyed for lion and wildlife populations, having been converted into farmlands or otherwise encroached on by humanity.
The study suggested that there are now just 67 "lion areas" left, and only 10 of these are, in any sense, stable.
The Duke researchers offered a more optimistic estimation of the lion's survival in Africa, suggesting the population numbers 32,000. However 6,000 of these are believed to be living in areas with a very high risk of local extinction, automatically reducing the estimate by about 19 percent.
Lions and Conservation
The overall picture suggests the inexorable decrease in lion population has been accelerated by a catastrophic rate of habitat loss and increasing human population. Evidence suggests the lion is a growing part of the illegal trade of wild animals and wild animal parts, and this could seal the species' extinction unless immediate action is taken.
Global Financial Integrity's (GFI's) 2011 report on transnational crime in the developing world estimates the total value of the illegal animal trade market at $10bn (approximately £6.2bn). The primary recipients of illegally traded animal parts are the Chinese (who use them in traditional medicine), as well as Americans and countries in the European Union. More....