West African lion
|West African lion|
|West African male lion from Pendjari National Park, Benin.|
|Subspecies:||P. l. senegalensis|
|Panthera leo senegalensis
The West African lion (Panthera leo senegalensis) is a lion subspecies native to western Africa. Recent genetic research indicates 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.
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. 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.
Distribution and population status
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 DRK.
Lions are rare in western Africa and may be critically endangered in this region. 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.
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.
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. 
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are about 60 lions in Virunga National Park and about 100 in Garamba National Park, respectively. However, these lions are outside the range, originally described for the West African lion.
In 2006 there were 13 captive animals registered under the name P. l. senegalensis. 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.
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