West African lion

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West African lion
West African male lion.jpg
West African male lion from Pendjari National Park, Benin.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Panthera
Species: Panthera leo
Subspecies: P. l. senegalensis
Trinomial name
Panthera leo senegalensis
(Meyer, 1826)
72275737 africa lions 624 v6.gif
Lions now roam in just 1.1% of their historic range in West Africa.

The West African lion (Panthera leo senegalensis), also known as the Senegal lion, is a lion subspecies native to western Africa. Results of genetic research indicate that the Western and Central African lions form a different clade of lions and are perhaps more related to Asian lions than to lions from southern or eastern Africa. The genetic distinctiveness is particular of interest, since lions are regionally endangered in western Africa. With a total population of perhaps only 400 individuals in all of West and Central Africa and no captive population, the West African lion is one of the most endangered subspecies of big cats.[1]


1898 artwork of Senegal lions (Panthera leo senegalensis).

Lions from western and central Africa are believed to be smaller than lions from southern Africa. It is also suggested, that they have smaller manes, live in smaller groups, and they may also differ in the shape of their skull.[2][3] In the Pendjari National Park area, which is within the range of the West African lion, almost all males are maneless or have very weak manes.[4]

Distribution and population status[edit]

The West African lion is distributed in western Africa south of the Sahara from Senegal in the west to the Central African Republic in the east. Another subspecies (P.l. azandica) or North East Congo lion is traditionally described from northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.[5]

Lions are rare in western Africa and may be critically endangered in this region.[6] In 2004 there were probably only 450-1,300 lions left in West Africa. In addition, there were about 550-1,550 in Central Africa. In both regions, the area inhabited by lions has been reduced until 2004 to less than 15% of the historic range.[7]

A recent study, which took place between 2006 and 2012, revealed, that lions have declined even further in West Africa. Only about 400 lions (range: 250–587) remained in the whole area between Senegal and Nigeria. The largest population of West African lions is found in the so called WAP-Complex, a large system of protected areas formed mainly by Arli, Pendjari, and W National Parks in the states Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger. The total population in this ecosystem comprises about 350 lions (range: 246–466). The other populations in West Africa consist of only a few individuals and are probably declining. They are found in Niokolo Koba National Park in Senegal and two places in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there are two small populations left, one in Kainji Lake National Park and another one in Yankari Game Reserve. The population at Kainji Lake might be connected to that of the WAP-Complex. There are probably no lions left in the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.[8][9][10]

In Central Africa a large population of 100-400 lions is found in Bénoué ecosystem in Cameroon. Smaller populations in Central Africa exist in Waza National Park in Cameroon and Zakouma National Park in Chad. Within Central African Republic there are about 150-500 lions left.[7]

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are about 60 lions in Virunga National Park and about 100 in Garamba National Park, respectively.[7] However, these lions are outside the range, originally described for the West African lion.[5]

Captive population[edit]

In 2006 there were 13 captive animals registered under the name P. l. senegalensis.[6] However, these lions, which are mainly kept in Australian zoos, are in fact not West African lions in the strict sense, but African lions in a broader sense. So there is no known West African lion population in captivity.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Henschel, P. (2014). "Lions 'facing extinction in West Africa'". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
  2. ^ Bertola, L., de Iongh, H., Vrieling, K. (2011). Researchers confirm West and Central African lion is different from other lions. University of Leiden. Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML). Faculty of Science. Last Modified: 01-04-2011.
  3. ^ Bertola, L. D.; Van Hooft, W. F.; Vrieling, K.; Uit De Weerd, D. R.; York, D. S.; Bauer, H.; Prins, H. H. T.; Funston, P. J.; Udo De Haes, H. A.; Leirs, H.; Van Haeringen, W. A.; Sogbohossou, E.; Tumenta, P. N.; De Iongh, H. H. (2011). "Genetic diversity, evolutionary history and implications for conservation of the lion (Panthera leo) in West and Central Africa". Journal of Biogeography 38 (7): 1356. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02500.x.  edit
  4. ^ Schoe, M., Sogbohossou, E. A., J. Kaandorp, H. de Iongh (2010). Progress Report – collaring operation Pendjari Lion Project, Benin. Dutch Zoo Conservation Fund.
  5. ^ a b Sunquist, M. E. & F. C. Sunquist (2009). "Family Felidae (Cats)". In D. E. Wilson, R. A. Mittermeier. Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 1: Carnivores. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 137 ff. ISBN 978-84-96553-49-1. 
  6. ^ a b Barnett, R., N. Yamaguchi, I. Barnes and A. Cooper (2006). The origin, current diversity and future conservation of the modern lion (Panthera leo). Proc. R. Soc. B (2006) 273: 2119–2125 doi:10.1098/rspb.2006.3555 PMID 16901830
  7. ^ a b c Bauer, H.; Van Der Merwe, S. (2004). "Inventory of free-ranging lions Panthera leo in Africa". Oryx 38. doi:10.1017/S0030605304000055.  edit
  8. ^ Henschel, P., D. Azani, C. Burton, G. Malanda, Y. Saidu, M. Sam, L. Hunter (2010). Lion status updates from five range countries in West and Central Africa. Cat News 52: 34-39.
  9. ^ Bauer, H., Nowell, K. & Packer, C. (2008). "Panthera leo". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 
  10. ^ Henschel, P.; Coad, L.; Burton, C.; Chataigner, B.; Dunn, A.; MacDonald, D.; Saidu, Y.; Hunter, L. T. B. (2014). Hayward, Matt, ed. "The Lion in West Africa is Critically Endangered". PLoS ONE 9: e83500. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083500.  edit

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