West African lion
|West African lion|
|Male lion in Pendjari National Park, Benin|
|Subspecies:||P. l. leo|
|Panthera leo leo|
|Lions now roam in just 1.1% of their historic range in West Africa.|
The West African lion (Panthera leo leo) is a lion population in West Africa that is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. This population is isolated and comprises fewer than 250 mature individuals. Already in 2004, the lion populations in West and Central Africa were fragmented and estimated as comprising at most 1,800 individuals.
It was formerly considered a lion subspecies under the name P. l. senegalensis. Results of phylogenetic research indicates that the West African lion population forms a distinct clade with Central African, North African and Asian lion populations beeing closely related. In 2017, the lion populations in North, West and Central Africa and Asia were subsumed under P. l. leo.
- In 1826, Johann Nepomuk Meyer described a lion from Senegal under the scientific name Felis leo senegalensis.
- In 1843, John Edward Gray described a specimen from Gambia in the British Museum of Natural History as Leo gambianus.
- In 1900, Paul Matschie described a specimen from Cameroon as Felis leo kamptzi.
In a comprehensive study about the evolution of lions, 357 samples of 11 lion populations were examined, including some hybrid lions. The hybrids had descended from lions captured in Angola and Zimbabwe, and apparently West or Central Africa. Results indicated that four lions from Morocco did not exhibit any unique genetic characteristics and shared mitochondrial haplotypes H5 and H6 with lions from West Africa, and together with them were part of a major mtDNA grouping (lineage III) that also included Asiatic samples. This scenario was well in line with theories on lion evolution: lineage III developed in East Africa and traveled north and west in the first wave of lion expansions about 118,000 years ago. It apparently broke up into haplotypes H5 and H6 within Africa, and then into H7 and H8 in West Asia.
Results of genetic analyses indicate that lions in West Africa and northern parts of Central Africa form different lion clades, which are more closely related to North African and Asiatic lions than to lions in Southern Africa and southern parts of East Africa. The Eastern border of the West African lion is situated in Nigeria and follows the lower Niger river.
The lion's fur varies in colour from light buff to dark brown. It has rounded ears and a black tail tuft. Average head-to-body length of male lions is 2.47–2.84 m (8.1–9.3 ft) with a weight of 148.2–190.9 kg (327–421 lb). Females are smaller and less heavy.
A few lion specimens from West Africa obtained by museums have been described as having shorter manes than lions from other African regions. In general, the West African lion is similar in general appearance and size as lions in other parts of Africa and Asia.
Distribution and habitat
The West African lion is distributed south of the Sahara from Senegal in the west to Nigeria in the east. The population in West Africa has lost 99% of its former range. It is regionally extinct in Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Togo, and possibly extinct in Guinea.
In the 1950s, lions used to still be present in savanna woodlands in southern parts of Mauritania, namely in the Néma, northern Tagant, Brakna, Hodh El Gharbi and Trarza Regions, and along the Karakoro and Senegal Rivers. In the country's Guidimaka Region, lions survived until the late 1980s.
Surveys carried out between 2006 and 2012 revealed that the West African lion population declined to a few hundred individuals in fragmented populations between Senegal and Nigeria. The largest West African lion subpopulation of between 246 and 466 individuals survives in the WAP-Complex, a large system of protected areas formed mainly by W, Arli, and Pendjari National Parks in Burkina Faso, Benin, and Niger. The other subpopulations consist of only a few individuals in Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal and in two sites in Nigeria, one in Kainji Lake National Park and the other in Yankari Game Reserve. The population at Kainji Lake might be connected to that of the WAP-Complex. These small subpopulations are probably declining.
|Range countries||Area used in km2||Estimated no. of individuals|
|Niokolo-Koba National Park in Senegal; Guinea||90,384||>50|
|Benin (except Pendjari National Park)||3,152; 1,742; 4,171||3; 18; 19|
|Kainji Lake in Nigeria||4,171||23–63|
|WAP complex in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger||29,403||246–466|
The West African lion population is threatened by poaching and illegal trade of body parts. Lion body parts from Benin are smuggled to Niger, Nigeria, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea, and from Burkina Faso to Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Guinea.
In 2006, a Lion Conservation Strategy for West and Central Africa was developed in cooperation between IUCN regional offices and several wildlife conservation organisations. The strategy envisages to maintain sufficient habitat, ensure a sufficient wild prey base, make lion-human coexistence sustainable and reduce factors that lead to further fragmentation of populations.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Panthera leo senegalensis.|
- Photos of West African lions at Pendjari National Park at flickr
- Wildlife extra: Lions from west and central Africa have more in common with Asiatic lion
- ROCAL West and Central African lion conservation network
- Henschel, P. (2014). "Lions 'facing extinction in West Africa'". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-01-26.