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Recent information about Lion populations from Cameroon and Ghana are very bleak

Lions in Western Africa follow the continental trend.

It is clear that Ghana could join the ranks of newly lionless countries in Africa; Cameroon might not be far behind.

The IUCN has a special status for western and central African lions: “regionally endangered” as opposed to the “vulnerable” status of eastern and southern African lions. We have reported earlier about the recent counts of lions in Kenya and Uganda – all heading down at a rapid rate.

Now there is some recent information from Ghana and Cameroon. In Ghana, a team of scientists and wildlife biologists from the University of California, Berkeley and the Ghana Wildlife Department carried out a survey of the Mole National Park, 4,600km2 in size, located in the northern part of the country. During a Technical Session of the West and Central African Lion Workshop organized by the IUCN in 2005, Mole was estimated to contain about 50 lions, with a declining trend. The Ghana survey conducted in 2009, soon to be published in the African Journal of Ecology, found… not a single lion. Although the workshop also proposed the presence of some lions in Ghana to occur in other areas (Bui-White Volta, Digya, Gbele, Nazinga-Sissili), it is clear that Ghana could join the ranks of newly lionless countries in Africa.

Cameroon might not be far behind. The Waza National Park is home to a team of researchers from Leiden University in the Netherlands working with local counterparts. There, lions are radiocollared and monitored. In 2005, the IUCN workshop estimated 60 lions in a stable population in the 1,700km2 area. More recently, a revised figure of 18 adults has emerged, and was published in the African Journal of Ecology in 2009.

In Mole in Ghana, the reasons for the local extinction are not known. In Waza in Cameroon, there is speculation that lions have been killed in retaliation for livestock losses and/or to sell body parts.

Western Africa is home to uniquely genetically different lions compared to eastern and southern Africa. The northern African lions are already locally extinct, although a few zoos including Port Lympne maintain they have been able to preserve the bloodlines.

What is the outlook for western African lions? Very grim in our estimation. In Waza, reconstructing a future viable population from 18 adults might benefit from the blessing of Jude, the patron saint of desperate causes. Western Africa was thought to hold some 2000 lions, with countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon estimated to have somewhere near 600 of those (the rest scattered across isolated areas in Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, etc). It was reported earlier that a survey in Nigeria found evidence of lions in only two of six areas where they were thought to occur – the other four had been overrun by cattle. With the depressing statistics from Mole and Waza, western African lions have been dealt another blow. The good news is that Leiden University has established lion projects in some western countries, and Ghana now seems to want lions back. The problem is, of course, if a reintroduction programme is to be contemplated, where will the genetically suitable lions be sourced from? And will the problems that led to the disappearance of the original populations be sufficiently addressed? 

Picture of St Jude:  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jude_the_Apostle

Posted by Pieter Kat at 00:00

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