It may still be "King of the Beasts," and have a far higher profile than its enigmatic Asian cousin, but it seems that even the ubiquitous African lion is losing hold over its kingdom. According to a new report released by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), these emblematic big cats have disappeared from 82 percent of their historic distribution over the past several decades. The 200-page report looked at the conservation status of the 20 largest species of African carnivores and examined priorities to help ensure that they persist on the continent.
WCS scientists ranked all 20 species using a variety of external factors, from the state of current knowledge on the species, to the threats facing each of them. They also looked at which areas in Africa have retained their full complement of large carnivore species and which areas need more conservation action.
Populations of the lion, listed in the report as "most vulnerable" have dropped steadily in recent decades, primarily due to conflicts with humans, destruction of habitat, and the loss of prey, according to the report.
Also making the most-vulnerable list are cheetahs and African wild dogs, which have vanished from 75 and 89 percent of their historical habitat respectively, and Ethiopian wolves which have vanished from an astonishing 98 percent of their range, (I'll feature the struggle to save this beautiful canid in a future post).
Other species of concern included the leopard, spotted hyena, and golden cat, all of which suffer from the combined key threats of habitat loss and conflict with people over predation on domestic animals.
By contrast, a handful of species seem to thrive among humans, including the African civet and several species of jackals. While these species also prey on livestock and poultry, their adaptability to a variety of habitats makes them less vulnerable to long-term population declines. Little was known about the conservation status of other species such as the aardwolf and honey badger and the report calls for greater research effort on these little-known carnivores.
The authors of the report say that while such well-known species as lions enjoy a relative wealth of conservation and research-based initiatives, there still remains a range-wide lack of knowledge of many carnivores. In addition, many research programs are geographically biased toward East and Southern Africa, sometimes at odds with the urgent need for increased conservation action in other parts of Africa.
The report lays out a framework for conservationists to better understand both the threats facing these animals, and the conservation action needed to ensure their survival.