Wild Africa Fund, an African conservation non-profit, is urging Nigerians to protect lions by reducing illegal bushmeat consumption, supporting better protection of their shrinking habitat, and championing anti-poaching measures as the world marks World Lion Day, 2023.
Currently, only about 120 – 374 lions remain in West Africa. Unlike in southern Africa, where these majestic cats are generally well protected and maintain stable populations, West African lions face extinction, losing 99 percent of their historic range, the group said.
Beyond habitat loss, lions have suffered a decline in prey species such as antelope due to the bushmeat trade and are frequently killed in retaliation for preying on livestock. Additionally, the snares and traps set for bushmeat often injure and kill lions.
In Nigeria, the fewer than 50 lions left in the wild are found in Kainji Lake National Park and the Yankari Games Reserve, both in northern Nigeria. In Ghana, several researchers have tried to find lions in the wild without success. They have disappeared completely in several West African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, and Sierra Leone.
“West African lions might disappear forever if we don’t urgently address the threats they face,” says Festus Iyorah, Nigeria Representative for Wild Africa Fund. “If we can protect their habitats more effectively, they could bounce back and boost our tourism.”
Wild Africa Fund believes it is possible to halt the decline of lions and restore their numbers, following the lead of countries that have brought lion populations back from the brink of extinction.
In Rwanda, lions were wiped out in the 1990s during the civil war and the 1994 genocide. Subsequently, farmers who settled on land previously inhabited by lions poisoned them to protect livestock. After over a decade of absence, seven lions were reintroduced from South Africa to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in 2015, followed by two more male lions added to the park in 2017.
Today the park has a thriving population of about 58 lions. This shows that it is never too late to protect and rebuild West Africa’s critically endangered lions, especially in countries like Ghana, where lions are possibly extinct.
“Lions are perhaps the most iconic African animal and have massive cultural significance. Their disappearance in West Africa would be tragic and squander an opportunity to foster wildlife tourism that has provided millions of jobs in east and southern Africa,” said Peter Knights, OBE, co-founder and CEO of Wild Africa Fund.
Wild Africa Fund has launched a month-long public awareness campaign using radio, TV, newspapers, billboards, and social media to inform people about the threats facing West African lions and reduce demand for illegal bushmeat. The campaign will feature messages from top celebrity ambassadors, including Davido and Alex Iwobi, and short documentaries highlighting ongoing efforts to protect lions and their habitat.