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.
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. There are probably only 450-1,300 lions left in West Africa. In addition, there are about 550-1,550 in Central Africa. In both regions, the area inhabited by lions has been reduced to less than 15% of the historic range.
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 between 140 and 300 lions. Another large population of 100-400 lions is found in Bénoué ecosystem in Cameroon. Smaller populations exist in other reserves, like Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal, Guinea-Mali Protected Area in Guinea, Waza National Park in Cameroon and Zakouma National Park in Chad. Within Central African Republic there are 150-500 lions left. 
In Nigeria, there are two small populations left, one in Kainji Lake National Park, consisting of about 24 lions, and another one in Yankari Game Reserve, consisting of about 15. 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 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 animals, which are registered under the name P. l. senegalensis. However, these lions, which are mainly kept in Australian zoos, are in fact no 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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- PHILIPP HENSCHEL, DEDE AZANI, COLE BURTON, GUY MALANDA, YOHANNA SAIDU, MOSES SAM, LUKE HUNTER (2010). Lion status updates from five range countries in West and Central Africa. CATnews 52 Spring 2010
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