Lion Population 2012

Source: Riggio J, Jacobson A, Dollar L, Bauer H, Becker M, Dickman A, Funston P, Groom R, Henschel P, de Iongh H, Lichtenfeld L, Pimm S (2012) The size of savannah Africa: a lion's (Panthera leo) view.  Biodiversity Conservation Dec 12 DOI 10.1007/s10531-012-0381-4 (html)

Lion Population Estimates as Low as 32,000, Habitat Reduced by 75%

"Durham, North Carolina (Dec. 4, 2012) — Researchers coordinated by a team at the Nicholas School of the Environment have determined that Africa’s once-thriving savannahs are in trouble, due to massive land-use conversion and burgeoning human population growth. The decline has had a significant impact on the lions that make their home in these savannahs; their numbers have dropped to as low as 32,000, down from nearly 100,000 just 50 years ago, according to a paper published online in this week’s journal “Biodiversity and Conservation.” The research is the most comprehensive assessment of lion numbers to date.

African savannahs are defined as those areas that receive between 300 and 1500 mm (approximately 11 to 59 inches) of rain annually. “These savannahs conjure up visions of vast open plains,” said Stuart Pimm, co-author of the paper who holds the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University. “The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains.” In comparison, 30% of the world’s original rain forests remain. 

Lions in West Africa are at highest level of risk, the researchers found. “The lions in West Africa have suffered the greatest declines,” said Andrew Jacobson, another co-author from Duke. “Giving these lions something of a fighting chance will require substantial increases in effort. The next 10 years are decisive for this region, not just for lions but for biodiversity, since lions are indicators of ecosystem health.

The paper’s senior author, Jason Riggio of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment assembled a team of fellow graduate students to examine very high-resolution satellite imagery of Africa from Google Earth to produce a map of where lions might still exist. “Based on our fieldwork, we knew that most of the information out there from low-resolution satellite-based studies was wrong,” said Riggio.  “Existing global maps are quite coarse and show large areas of African woodlands as being intact. Only by utilizing very high-resolution imagery, were we able to identify many of these areas as being riddled with small fields and extensive, if small, human settlements that make it impossible for lions to survive.

The next phase of research was a systematic evaluation of all existing data on lion populations in Africa. To complete the task, Pimm assembled an international team of co-authors who were familiar with existing reports on lion populations and who had contributed to the process of making those reports. Data also were pulled from various “user communities,” including assessments that were funded by hunting organizations. Data from “user community,” proved to be broadly similar with those of other researchers. Prior to this research, various estimates of lion populations in Africa ranged from 20,000 to 40,000.

Once the data were compiled and analysed, the team created a detailed map that outlined areas of low human impact, more favourable to lion populations. The analysis identified only 67 isolated areas across the continent where lions might survive. They identified 10 strongholds where lions have an excellent chance of survival, many of them within national parks. None of the strongholds is located in West Africa, where countries have doubled their human population in the last 20 to 30 years. According to the research, fewer than 500 lions remain in this area, scattered across eight isolated sites.

This research is a major step in helping prioritize funding strategies for saving big cats,” said Luke Dollar.  Dollar is a co-author of the paper and the grants program director of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative (BCI) that provided partial funding for this work. “Of the estimated 32,000-35,000 lions, more than 5,000 of them are located in small, isolated populations, putting their survival in doubt. The research will help us better identify areas in which we can make a difference.” 

BCI was founded in 2009 as a long-term effort to halt the decline of big cats in the wild through assessment efforts, on-the-ground conservation projects, education and a global public-awareness campaign.  This research is part of the assessment effort to better target funding to on-the-ground conservation projects most likely to make a difference."

Western Africa

Lion Area ID No. of Lions Area (km2) Countries
Niokolo-Guinea 1 <50 90,384 Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal
Haut Niger 2 6 613 Guinea
W-Arly-Pendjari 3 350 29,403 Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger
Mr Kouffe-Wari Maro 4 3 3,152 Benin
Aliboro Superieur 5 18 1,742 Benin
Trois Rivieres 6 19 1,939 Benin
Kainji Lake 7 32 4,171 Nigeria
Yankari 8 2 2,380 Nigeria
WESTERN AFRICA TOTAL   480 133,784  

Central Africa

Lion Area ID No. of Lions Area (km2) Countries
Waza 9 17 1,452 Cameroon
Benoue Complex 10 200 14,682 Cameroon
Bozoum 11 4 8,383 Central African Republic
Nana-Barya 12 4 2,314 Central African Republic
South-East Chad 13 400 133,408 Chad
East-Central African Republic 14 1,244 328,721 Central African Republic
Garamba-Bili Uere 15 175 115,671 Democratic Republic of Congo
South-West Sudan 16 375 331,834 South Sudan, Sudan
CENTRAL AFRICA TOTAL   2,419 936,465  
Total without SE Chad, SW Sudan & Sudan   1,784 472,723 The status of lions in these areas is questionable.

Eastern Africa

Lion Area ID No. of Lions Area (km2) Countries
Boma-Gambella 17 500 106,941 Ethiopia, South Sudan
South Omo 18 200 22,483 Ethiopia
Nechisar 19 10 1,030 Ethiopia
Bale 20 50 2,373 Ethiopia
Welmel-Genale 21 100 6,649 Ethiopia
Awash 22 50 25,302 Ethiopia
Ogaden 23 100 35,405 Ethiopia
Greater Virunga 24 210 5,583 Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda
Toro-Semiliki 25 5 538 Uganda
Lake Mburo 26 3 373 Uganda
Murchison Falls 27 132 3,889 Uganda
Kidepo Valley 28 <182 11,064 South Sudan, Uganda
Laikipia-Samburu 29 271 35,511 Kenya
Meru 30 40 7,365 Kenya
Arawale-Bush Bush 31 750 22,540 Kenya, Somalia
Arboweerow-Alafuuto 32 175 24,527 Somalia
Luama 33 <50 5,197 Democratic Republic of Congo
Itombwe Massif 34 <50 3,244 Democratic Republic of Congo
North-West Tanzania 35 105 4,703 Tanzania
Ruaha-Rungwa 36 3,779 195,993 Tanzania
Mpanga Kipengere 37 14 958 Tanzania
Swaga Swaga 38 102 7,242 Tanzania
Serengeti-Mara 39 3,676 35,852 Kenya, Tanzania
Nairobi 40 <30 830 Kenya
Tsavo-Mkomazi 41 880 39,216 Kenya, Tanzania
Tarangire 42 731 28,771 Tanzania
Wami-Mbiki-Saadani 43 136 8,787 Tanzania
Selous 44 7,644 138,035 Tanzania
EASTERN AFRICA TOTAL   19,972 780,401  
Total without Somalia   19,047 733,334 The status of lions in this area is questionable.

Southern Africa

Lion Area ID No. of Lions Area (km2) Countries
Kissama-Mumbondo 45 <10 4,593 Angola
Bocoio-Camucuio 46 55 22,005 Angola
South-East Angola 47 1,905 386,962 Angola
Liuwa Plains 48 4 3,866 Zambia
Sioma Ngwezi 49 <50 4,155 Zambia
Kafue 50 386 58,898 Zambia
Nsumbu 51 <50 5,650 Zambia
Luangwa 52 574 72,992 Malawi, Zambia
Kasungu 53 6 2,341 Malawi
Nkhota Kota 54 18 1,846 Malawi
Etosha-Kunene 55 455 123,800 Angola, Namibia
Khaudom-Caprivi 56 150 92,372 Namibia
Xaixai 57 75 12,484 Botswana
Kgalagadi 58 800 163,329 Botswana, South Africa
Okavango-Hwange 59 2,300 99,552 Botswana, Zimbabwe
Greater Mapungubwe 60 25 5,158 Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe
Bubye 61 200 4,875 Zimbabwe
Mid-Zambezi 62 755 64,672 Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Tete South of Cahora Bassa 63 59 13,612 Mozambique
Niassa 64 1,573 177,559 Mozambique, Tanzania
Gile 65 45 22,322 Mozambique
Gorongosa - Marromeu 66 229 46,781 Mozambique
Great Limpopo 67 2,311 150,347 Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe
SOUTHERN AFRICA TOTAL   12,036 1,540,171  
Total without Angola   10,066 1,126,611 The status of lions in this area is questionable.



Continued efforts to assess lion populations and provide clarifcation of previous estimates are ongoing.  Some of the information to be made during 2012 is indicated here:

Rwanda:  The most recent estimates of lion populations in Akagera National Park (the only lion population within the country) were of +- 25 individuals.  Since the African Parks Network commenced management of the Park in 2010 no signs of lion activity have been recorded suggesting that lion populations have been recently extirpated.  It is possible that the occasional transient lion may enter the Park from neighbouring Tanzania from time to time although no evidence of such has been found in recent years. (Bryan Havemann, African Parks Network, pers. comms)

Nigeria:  In 2009 Nigeria was believed to have a total of 44 lions comprised of 29 in Kainji Lake National Park and 15 in Yankari Game Reserve.  A report published in 2012 following a study in 2011 reports that the total has has declined to just 34 individuals comprised of 32 in Kainji Lake and 2 in Yankari. [19]

Malawi:  African Parks Network reintroduced 4 lions to Majete National Park.

Zambia: Following the death of a lion in Liuwa Plains NP (lion area ID 48) the number of lions is reduced to 3 individuals (html).