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African and Asian Lions (Panthera leo) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Population Status

*For historic distribution, see Distribution

Africa

  • Difficult to estimate population size, even on a regional scale (Bauer et al. 2015)
    • Previously, stable populations in southern Africa masked declines in other parts of Africa (Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Systematic surveys lacking (Bauer et al. 2015)
    • No reliable estimates exist for five African countries (Bauer et al. 2015)
  • Estimated number of lions in Africa
    • Historically (Hazzah et al. 2009)
      • 1950: 500,000
      • 1975: 200,000
      • Early 1990s: less than 100,000
    • Today
      • Approximately 20,000-30,000 (Bauer et al. 2016)
        • Thought to be closer to 20,000 than 30,000
        • Still considerable uncertainty in current estimates
  • Populations decreasing across much of Africa (Bauer et al. 2015; Bauer et al. 2016, except as noted)
    • Continent-wide: ~43% decline from 1993-2014
      • Except in four southern countries: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe (i.e., only increasing in southern Africa)
        • Subpopulations increased by 12%
        • Majority of these populations are fenced
        • 60% decline in remainder of Africa
    • Lion populations in West, Central, and East Africa likely to experience a 50% decline over the next two decades (~2015-2035)
      • West and Central populations: 67% chance of 50% decline
      • East Africa populations: 37% chance of 50% decline
    • Outside southern Africa, unfenced lion populations estimated to have declined by 62% between 1993 and 2014
      • Unfenced reserves in southern Africa: 11% decline
    • Half of unfenced lion populations expected to be near extinction in next 20-40 years (Packer et al. 2013)
  • Populations close to extinction
    • Greatest concern for populations in West, Central, and East Africa (e.g., Bauer et al. 2015; Bauer et al. 2016) (abundance data source: Riggio et al. 2013, as recommended to SDZG Library by Hans Bauer)
      • Found in small, isolated pockets
      • West/Central Africa
        • West: ~500 lions
          • Subpopulations Critically Endangered
        • Central: ~2200
          • Evidence of being regionally endangered
      • East Africa
        • ~18,300 lions
        • Traditionally abundant
        • Experiencing steep declines, like West/Central Africa
        • Bauer et al. (2016) suggest listing populations in this region as regionally endangered (based on evidence from Bauer et al. 2015)
      • Southern Africa
        • ~11,100 lions
        • Overall, Least Concern
        • Heterogeneous: Some populations experiencing declines while others increasing
  • Disappearing from large parts of Africa (Bauer et al. 2015)
    • Recently extirpated from 12 African countries (Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Possibly 4 additional countries
  • Stable, increasing, or at high density (but see Bauer et al. 2015)
    • Fenced populations
    • Fenced reserves in Kenya and southern Africa (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Bauer et al. 2015)
  • Signals a major ecosystem-level change to Africa’s savannahs (Bauer et al. 2015)
    • Shifting trophic interactions
    • Diminishing influence of lions as formative apex predators

 India

  • Only subpopulation remaining in Asia (Bauer et al. 2016)
    • 4 areas (3 outside of Gir Forest protected area)
    • Contiguous distribution (Bauer et al. 2015)
  • Most occur in the Gir Forest National Park (Bauer et al. 2015, 2016)
    • Recent expansion into surrounding countryside
  • Stable (compared to prior Critically Endangered status) (Bauer et al. 2015; Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Where management is properly funded
  • 2015 Asiatic Lion Census (Forest Force 2015)
    • Counted 523 individuals
      • 109 males
      • 201 females
      • 213 subadults

Conservation

Current IUCN Status (August 2016)

  • African lion
    • Vulnerable (2014 assessment) (Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Population trend: decreasing
    • Species population reduction of 30% over the past 2 decades (3 lion generations)
    • Populations in West and Central Africa of special concern (Barnett et al. 2014)
      • West Africa subpopulation: Critically Endangered (2014 assessment) (Henschel et al. 2014)
        • Only ~500 lions remain
  • Asian lion
    • Endangered (2008 assessment) (Breitenmoser et al. 2008)
    • Single population of ~300 breeding adults
    • All occur within a single small area
    • Numbers are expected to suffer a decrease due to increasing conflict with people

Forthcoming IUCN Status

  • National Red List: Lions in South Africa will be categorized as Least Concern (Bauer et al. 2016)
  • Global Red List: Lions in Indian subpopulation will be categorized as Endangered (Bauer et al. 2016)
  • West Africa: Critically Endangered (Henschel et al. 2014; Bauer et al. 2016)

CITES Status (Checklist of CITES species)

  • African lion
  • ​Asian lion
    • Appendix I (UNEP 2019)
    • Highest level of protection from commercial trade under CITES
  • 2016 news: Ten African countries proposed listing all lions on Appendix I (https://cites.org/)
  • All cat species included on Appendix I and/or II (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009)
    • Except domestic house cat

U.S. Endangered Species Act

San Diego Zoo Global

  • Lion conservation and management programs supported by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research include:
    • Long-term studies of African lion reproduction in managed care
    • Chemical communication and behavior
    • Conservation education and outreach in Kenya

 

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Threats to Survival

Conflict with humans

  • Competition for land/space (e.g., conversion for agriculture) and food (bushmeat trade) due to increasing human populations and expanding settlement (Lindsey et al. 2013a)
    • Lions most successful in areas of low-to-medium human densities (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
  • Retaliatory or pre-emptive killing of lions to protect livestock and humans (Ikanda and Packer 2008; Kissui 2008; Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Bauer et al. 2015)
    • Targeted disproportionately compared to other livestock predators (Kissui 2008)
      • Larger numbers of highly-valued cattle are killed by lions than by hyenas and leopards
    • Humans poison carcasses that lions then scavenge on (Hazzah et al. 2009; Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Packer et al. 2011; Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Inexpensive poison available (e.g., insecticides) (Hazzah et al. 2009)
      • Little information on number of lions poisoned each year (Bauer et al. 2016)
  • Lion attacks on livestock
    • In bomas at night or fields during the day (Kissui 2008)
      • Most attacks on cattle and donkeys; also sheep and goats (Kissui 2008)
      • Cattle more highly valued, monetarily and culturally
      • Cause economic losses for pastoralists/ranchers (Patterson et al. 2004; Kissui 2008)
      • Reduces tolerance for predators (Hazzah et al. 2009; Hemson et al. 2009)
  • Lion attacks on people
    • Circumstances increasing probability of attacks (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009)
      • Low prey densities
      • A lion is physically unable to hunt its usual prey
      • Human-dense and lion-dense populations converge
    • Few estimates of number of attacks per year
    • High incidence in Tanzania (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009)
      • Attacks on over 1,000 people between 1990 and 2007 (Kushnir et al. 2010)
        • Most in central and southern regions (Kushnir et al. 2014)
      • Most attacks occur when people are tending crops in agricultural fields (Kushnir et al. 2010)
        • Lions force their way into huts that farmers sleep in during harvest season
    • Packer et al. (2005) and Kushnir et al. (2010) discuss many social factors that increase the risk of attack by lions
      • Vary with human activity patterns and location
      • Examples:
        • Distance walked to resources (water, firewood, neighbors, but surprisingly not to agricultural fields)
        • Higher abundance of bush pigs
        • Low diversity of wild prey
        • Sleeping outdoors (especially at night)
        • Home safety (construction sturdiness)

Hunting and poaching

  • European livestock ranchers and 20th century hunting expeditions removed large number of lions from Africa (Whitman et al. 2007)
  • Hunting now prohibited in some countries
    • For example, banned in Kenya since 1977 (Whitman et al. 2007; Akama 2008)
    • Other places: no legal protections (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009)
    • Commercial trade of African lion permissible under CITES Appendix II (Nowell and Pervushina 2014)
  • Poachers often use snares (Whitman et al. 2007)
  • Harvesting body parts
    • Use in traditional medicine
      • Illegal trade is an emerging threat (Nowell and Pervushina 2014; Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Local markets (Packer et al. 2011)
      • Markets in Africa and Asia (Craigie et al. 2010; Miller et al. 2014)
    • Parts most sought after (Nowell and Pervushina 2014; Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Bones
        • Increasing use of African lion bone in Asia
          • Historically, not used in Asian traditional medicine
          • Now, being used to make medicinal wines in China
        • Similar use as tiger bone
        • Export of bones from “captive” lions to China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Viet Nam
          • May be cover for illegally-sourced bone from wild/protected lions
      • Fat
      • Skins
      • Claws
      • Manes
  • Trophy hunting
    • Defined as “…hunting by paying tourists, typically with the objective of selecting individuals with exceptional physical attributes…and usually in the company of a professional hunting guide” (Lindsey et al. 2007)
      • “Sport hunting” (Packer et al. 2009)
    • Allowed across at least 27-32% of the lion’s range, in countries where legally permitted (Lindsey et al. 2013b)
    • Multimillion dollar industry (Whitman et al. 2007)
      • Among highest prices of all trophy wildlife species in Africa (Lindsey et al. 2012)
      • Most foreign hunters from the United States and E.U. nations (Lindsey et al. 2007)
      • Industry largest in southern Africa, particularly South Africa (Lindsey et al. 2007)
        • Contributing factors
          • Hunting closures in other countries
          • Political instability in other regions
          • Successful wildlife conservation outside of protected areas in southern Africa
          • Other high value animals (elephants, rhinos, leopard, buffalo) also found in southern Africa
    • Can have positive or negative conservation impacts, depending on how well trophy hunting is managed (Lindsey et al. 2013b; Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Not thought to cause declines unless poorly managed (Bauer et al. 2016)
      • Removing males at least 6 years old reduces impact on populations (West and Packer 2013)
    • Lack of consensus on the ethical, social, and biological effects (Lindsey et al. 2007)
      • Debate: animal rights groups and ‘protectionists’ vs. hunters and pragmatic conservationists (see Lindsey et al. 2007)
    • Suggested advantages and limitations of trophy hunting in conservation (see Lindsey et al. 2007 for discussion)
      • Advantages
        • Generates revenue in places not suitable for tourism (Lindsey et al. 2007; Whitman et al. 2007)
        • Vastly increases land area used for wildlife conservation (much larger than protected areas/parks alone) (Lindsey et al. 2007)
        • May create a buffer between national parks and villages (Whitman et al. 2007)
          • Reduces human-lion conflict
      • Limitations
        • Excessive take can drive population declines (Packer et al. 2009; Packer et al. 2011)
          • Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Zambia (see Bauer et al. 2016 for literature citations)
        • Social disruption in a pride (Lindsey et al. 2012)
          • Removal of tenure-holding males may lead to infanticide by incoming males (Lindsey et al. 2012)
    • Hunting restrictions may reduce budgets for anti-poaching and community outreach (Lindsey et al. 2012)
      • Precluding hunting may impose greater long term risk to lions
        • Undermine wildlife- and conservation-compatible land uses (e.g., agriculture and pastoralism) (Lindsey et al. 2013b)
  • Ritual lion hunting
    • Cultural practice of the Maasai (Ala-mayo)
    • Banned in the 1970s (Ikanda and Packer 2008)
      • Tradition adhered to by some Maasai youth
        • Retaliatory killings after cattle depredation may serve as pretext to carry out ritual (Ikanda and Packer 2008; Kissui 2008)
      • Few lions taken this way, annually (Ikanda and Packer 2008; Packer et al. 2011)
        • Compared to trophy and actual retaliatory killings
        • Nomadic lions (which experience high natural mortality) often killed (Ikanda and Packer 2008)

Habitat loss/degradation

  • Available savannah habitat for lions has been reduced by 75% over the past century (Riggio et al. 2013)
  • Populations small and isolated (Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Reintroductions to small, fenced reserves (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009)
  • Increasingly restricted to protected areas (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; West and Packer 2013)
  • West and Central Africa populations (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Bertola et al. 2011)
    • Small and isolated; sparsely distributed
    • Little-to-no gene flow, even in wildlife parks
      • Decreased genetic diversity
      • Inbreeding depression
    • Increased consequences, if catastrophic events occur

Low prey abundance

  • Depletion of ungulate prey (Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Across Africa (Craigie et al. 2010)
      • Particularly, West and East Africa
  • Prey under pressure from commercial bushmeat trade (e.g., Lindsey et al. 2013a)
  • Lion densities strongly affected by impacts of weather (temperature, rainfall) on herbivore biomass (Celesia et al. 2009)
  • Migration of prey can also create seasons where food is scarce (Nowell and Jackson 1996)

Diseases from domesticated animals (non-comprehensive list)

  • Canine distemper virus from dogs (Kissui and Packer 2004; Wilson and Mittermeier 2009; Chauvenet et al. 2011; West and Packer 2013)
    • Some lion populations more resilient to outbreaks than others
      • Outbreaks may be of short duration with quick recovery following (Ferreira and Funston 2010)
      • 1993-1994 outbreak
        • Killed 33% of ~3,000 lions in Serengeti-Mara population
        • However, population was able to quickly recover
    • Dog vaccination campaigns
      • Ecosystem-level effects need to be evaluated (Chauvenet et al. 2011)
  • Bovine tuberculosis
    • Likely infected when lions scavenge or kill African buffalo in advanced disease stages (Maas et al. 2012)
    • Prevalence may be high with negligible survival/health effects (Ferreira and Funston 2010)
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus
    • No known negative effects on lion health (Maas et al. 2012) but not well-understood
  • Inbreeding may cause small, isolated populations to become immunocompromised (Packer et al. 2011)

Other diseases and parasites (non-comprehensive list)

  • Tanzania (West and Packer 2013)
    • Coronavirus
    • Calicivirus
    • Parvovirus
    • Rift Valley fever
    • Anthrax
    • Influenza
  • Parasites (Schaller 1972; Bjork et al. 2000)
    • Ticks
    • Biting flies
    • Intestinal worms
    • Blood parasites
    • Sarcoptic mange (Young 1975)

Management Actions

Habitat areas

  • National parks, wildlife preserves, private reserves
    • Many in Africa
    • Gir Forest National Park
  • Population growth rates highest in fenced reserves and private managed reserves (Packer et al. 2013)
    • Electrified boundary fencing (Hunter et al. 2007; Packer et al. 2013)
      • Limits lion movements, keeping them within a protected area
      • Expensive to install, $3,000+ per km (Packer et al. 2013)
  • Success in South Africa
    • Small, fenced, intensively managed, well-funded reserves (Bauer et al. 2015)
  • Recommendation: Ensure adequate population connectivity among habitat fragments
    • Habitat patches need to be within dispersal ability of females (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
      • Females generally stay within natal area or an adjacent home range
      • Do not disperse as far as males
      • Males disperse and travel 2-3 times farther than females
    • Protect lions moving through unprotected areas between habitat patches (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
    • Maintain corridors among unfenced populations (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
    • Monitor extinction and colonization rates (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
      • Support large protected areas (Henschel et al. 2014)
        • Helps prevent local extirpation

Regional conservation strategies (Bauer et al. 2016)

  • Developed for lions in West and Central Africa, and Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Used to create Conservation Action Plans

Strategies to increase tolerance of lions in local communities (Dolrenry et al. 2014; Hazzah et al. 2014)

  • Improve livestock husbandry practices  (Maclennan et al. 2009; Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Provide incentives to ranchers/pastoralists to monitor livestock
  • Help mitigate livestock depredation (Patterson et al. 2004)
    • Expand effective compensation program approaches (Maclennan et al. 2009; Bauer et al. 2016 and as noted)
      • Pay livestock owners for losses
        • Enables conversation between pastoralists and conservationists (Hazzah et al. 2009)
        • System may also be abused (Maclennan et al. 2009)
          • Apathy leading to poor husbandry of livestock
          • Falsification of losses
          • Corruption (e.g., misconduct of verification officers)

Reintroductions and translocations

  • Groups of unrelated individuals can form long-term relationships; socially stable (Hunter et al. 2007)
    • Some reintroduced lions fail to socially bond with existing wild prides (e.g., Kilian and Bothma 2003)
      • Cohesive group structures need to be established prior to release (Abell et al. 2013)
  • Populations may be still hindered if small habitat area, fenced in, and isolated from other lion populations (Hunter et al. 2007)

Wildlife tourism

  • Advantages when well-managed (funds collected and distributed properly) (Bauer et al. 2016)
    • Provides incentives for land/habitat conservation
    • Generates revenue for park management and local communities
  • When poorly managed, benefits tourism companies but not communities (see Hemson et al. 2009)

Sport hunting and wildlife populations (Nowell and Jackson 1996)

  • Vigorous debate
  • Hunting bans may work
    • Helped “Asian lions” in the Gir Forest
      • Population increased from 20 individuals (ca. 1900) to 523 individuals (in 2015) (Forest Force 2015)
  • Hunting bans may indirectly harm wildlife
    • Heavy poaching in Kenya followed 1977 ban (Akama 2008)
  • Strategies for sustainable hunting practices (Lindsey et al. 2013b)
    • Enforce age restrictions (e.g., males ≥ 7 years old (see Miller et al. 2016; also, Whitman et al. 2007; Packer et al. 2009; White et al. 2016)
      • Difficulties in using traits for assessment (i.e., hunters not able to accurately age lions)
        • See Miller et al. (2016)
        • Nose coloration, facial scarring, coloration and wearing of teeth
        • Aging the African Lion
    • Improve industry monitoring
      • Adjustable quotas, monitored for compliance
      • Population monitoring to ensure sustainable quotas
    • Establish minimum duration of hunts
    • Have the same hunting companies operate for multiple seasons
    • Enforce legislation
    • Establish measures to reduce corruption in the industry
    • Distribute benefits generated by trophy hunting and ecotourism to communities

Additional recommendations

  • Update taxonomic distinctions that do not reflect full species diversity
    • African populations managed as single subspecies (as of Aug 2016) (Bertola et al. 2011)
      • Underestimates risk of extinction
    • May result in disappearance of distinct lineages or populations (Bertola et al. 2011)
    • Likely affects breeding practices in zoos (Bertola et al. 2011)
  • Improve knowledge of occurrence, distribution, and status of breeding lion populations (Dolrenry et al. 2014)
    • On a regional level
    • Create a lion sightings database

Conservation Groups

Living with Lions

  • Scientists and Maasai warriors working to conserve lions in Kenya’s nonprotected areas

Lion Guardians (Hazzah et al. 2014)

  • Conservation organization working to reduce human-lion conflict
    • Kenya and Tanzania
  • Focus on local value systems and cultures
  • Integrate social, biological, and traditional/indigenous knowledge

Panthera

  • Project Leonardo
    • Aims to increase African lion populations from 20,000 to a minimum of 30,000 lions over the next 15 years

African People and Wildlife Fund

  • Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative

Desert Lion Conservation

  • Scientific studies to conserve lions in the Namib Desert

IUCN Cat Specialist Group

  • Develop management plans to promote felid conservation

FelidTAG

  • Felid Taxon Advisory Group
    • Organized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
    • AZA members and other felid experts participate
  • Develop management plans to promote wild cat conservation and care of felids in AZA institutions

Majestic Manes

Male lion

The male lion's mane is seen by many as a symbol of strength and power.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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