Fortunately, the IUCN Red List, the organisation charged with compiling data on the population sizes of wild cat species, can provide us with a figure which is 23,000-39,000 mature individuals. They say that the population is not severely fragmented but that it continues to decline. The population trend is: decreasing. I’m going to rely on the Red List information but the panthera.org website tells us that the lion no longer exists in over 95% of its original range. They also report that experts have estimated the lion population at 20,000 in the wild. This is less than the Red List estimate as you can see. It is estimated that there were 100,000 lions in existence in the early 1990s and in about 1900 there were 200,000.
They state that they don’t have sufficient confidence in an earlier or recent population estimates to allow them to work out a trend. They admit that there is considerable uncertainty in the information. This not unusual.
It should be noted that there are two major populations (subspecies) of lion: the African lion and the Asiatic lion. The latter is in the Indian state of Gujarat. They say that the population in India has stabilised inside the Gir Reserve. And they state that the satellite population surrounding the reserve has expanded by about 400% in the past 21 years. This reserve is in the top left-hand corner of India, by the way.
Populations of lion increased in South Africa by 8% but declined sharply by 59% in eastern Africa and 66% in west and central Africa. Is the South African increase due to breeding them for canned hunting?
In terms of categorising the conservation status of the lion, it is described as Vulnerable. The chart below shows you the various categories. Vulnerable is in the middle and one step away from endangered.
The main threats to the existence of the lion according to the IUCN Red List are:
- Indiscriminate killing of the lion in retaliation for the lion’s attacks on livestock and human life. In parts of south-eastern Tanzania there have been large numbers of people killed by lions. Up to 400 people have been killed over the period 1997-2007;
- Loss of its prey because the animals that the lion feeds on also feeds people in the form of bushmeat. The bush meat trade is described as being unsustainable and increasingly commercialised, which means that it is getting worse. Lions eat herbivores. Herbivore population sizes declined by 52% in eastern Africa and by 85% in Western Africa although there is a reported increase of 24% in southern Africa;
- Habitat loss and conversion of lion habitat to commercial use. This has resulted in some subpopulations becoming small and isolated;
- Trophy hunting has contributed to reduced numbers of lions in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Zambia;
- The use of lion bones and body parts and derivatives for traditional Chinese medicine is another negative impact on lion population size. This is an illegal trade in lion parts;
- Disease is also a factor.
SOME MORE ON LIONS: