IUCN says lion numbers plummeting across Africa

Image: King of a dwindling jungle: The IUCN says lions have disappeared from at least 12 African countries since 1993 © Ann & Steve Toon

June 26: The number of lions across Africa has shrunk by 42% over the past 21 years, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In its most up-to-date assessment of African lion populations, published this week, the IUCN says the decline is much worse if Namibia, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe are excluded from the figures, with declines across the rest of Africa amounting to an average of 60%.

The figures have alarmed conservationists across the globe. Following publication of the IUCN’s assessment, the Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA called for immediate international action to halt the catastrophic decline in lion populations. “The IUCN reassessment confirms what we have known for some time: that lions are in serious decline across much of Africa,” declared Born Free Foundation chief executive Adam M. Roberts.

Critically endangered
The IUCN assessment covered the period from 1993 to 2014 and found that lions have disappeared altogether from at least 12 and possibly up to 16 African countries in that period. In West Africa, numbers are so low that the IUCN believes the big cat should be reclassified as critically endangered – one classification away from extinction.

“The trade data suggests that international trade in lion parts and products is putting pressure on these vulnerable lion populations, which they clearly can’t sustain,” said Roberts. The Born Free boss continued: “We call on the international community to increase the protection for lions from the impact of trade through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to issue its long-overdue final rule on listing the lion as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act.”

Trade in lion parts
According to the official CITES trade database, trade in lions and lion parts has been increasing. From 2009 to 2013 the total number of lions and lion parts exported doubled compared to the previous five-year period. The figures reveal particularly worrying increases in the trade in lion bones and skeletons (presumably to supply demand for Asian traditional medicines and tonics), skins, and trophies from captive bred animals.

“These iconic animals can’t wait,” added Roberts. “Lions used to roam all over Africa, west Asia and even southern Europe. Now we risk seeing them disappear from much of their remaining sub-Saharan African range. We cannot sit by and watch this species disappear under our watch.”

Born Free is working with the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and African lion experts to improve collaboration between African range states on lion conservation, identify the reasons for the declines, and to help range states reverse this trend.

• IUCN re-assessment for the African lion:
http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/15951/0

• IUCN re-assessment for the West African sub-population: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/68933833/0

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