Between deforestation, poachers and muppet dentists it’s rare that one has a chance to speak of adding animal populations to the African continent but conservationists have found a new population of lions in remote Ethiopia and the Sudan.
Paw prints, camera traps and “new” lions
In a recent expedition led by famed lion conservationist Hans Bauer, I’m delighted to report, with the help of the Associated Press’ reporting, that a “new” population of lions has been found in the Northwest corner of Ethiopia and bordering Sudan. The find confirms local lore that has maintained, for generations, that the Alatash National Park in Ethiopia and adjacent Dinder National Park in Sudan host a vibrant population of lions that are largely declining everywhere else on the continent.
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“Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder,” Bauer said about the find. The conservationist from the Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit estimates that over 50 lions likely roam the Alatash with another 150 or so joining them in the entirety of the Eco-system of which Alatash makes up a small portion.
“Due to limited surface water, prey densities are low, and lion densities are likely to be low, we may conservatively assume a density in the range of one to two lions per 100 square kilometers (38.6 square miles),” Bauer said.
“During my professional career I have had to revise the lion distribution map many times,” Bauer told the New Scientist. “I have deleted one population after the other. This is the first and probably the last time that I’m putting a new one up there.”
Given the range of problems facing African lions and their dwindling numbers it truly is a remarkable find, the only true surprise is that Google Earth didn’t find them first. I can’t be the only person that thinks the balloons that make up Google’s Project Loon should be equipped with cameras.
A boon to a dwindling lion population in Africa
Lions presently “enjoy” a limited habitat that is estimated to be a mere 8% of its historic range across the continent. And that range is populated by only 25% to 50% of the lions that were there in 1980 owing to agriculture and slaughter aimed at protecting both humans and livestock.
The lion is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Endangered species. Given the potential loss of up to 75% of the African lion population, the use of “vulnerable” seems to be flirting with gross understatement.
“The confirmation that lions persist in this area is exciting news,” Born Free’s Chief Executive Adam M. Roberts, whose group funded the expedition, said in a statement regarding the find.
“With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important – especially in Ethiopia, whose government is a significant conservation ally,” he said. “We need to do all we can to protect these animals and the ecosystem on which they depend, along with all the other remaining lions across Africa, so we can reverse the declines and secure their future.”
This sentiment was echoed by Bauer’s team in similar statement.
While I’m certain that being eaten by a lion is no fun, it would be a damn shame if a pack of hyenas somehow became the king of the jungle.