In many parts of Africa lions are rapidly going extinct. Newly released research has found that over the last fifty years their total population has fell by two-thirds. There were almost 100,000 lions in 1960, and now about 32,000. Their territorial range has suffered an even more drastic loss, they’ve lost about 75% of their habitat in the last fifty years. The habitat loss has mostly been because of expanding human populations.
ScienceHeathen has more:
The new research is the most ‘comprehensive assessment of the state and vitality of African savannah habitat to date’. Done by using Google Earth’s high-resolution satellite imagery, the tivc fall, research analyzed savannah habitats throughout Africa. Modern lions live almost entirely in the savannah. The researchers investigated the lions current range, and “also analyzed human population density data to identify areas of suitable habitat currently occupied by lions. Incredibly, the analysis identified only 67 isolated regions across the continent where significant lion populations may persist. Of these areas, just 15 were estimated to maintainoss a population of at least 500 lions.” If their numbers drop that low, it will be very unlikely that any long-term recovery of their population could occur.
“The reality is that from an original area a third larger than the continental United States, only 25% remains,” explained Stuart Pimm, co-author and Doris Duke Chair of Conservation at Duke University.
While the researchers think that lions won’t be going completely extinct soon, it seems an inevitability if their territories continue to diminish as they likely will. As populations sizes diminish and various local populations go extinct, too much genetic diversity is lost to ensure a healthy population. The less genetic diversity there is in a species the more susceptible they are to changes in the environment and to diseases, and it also increases the likelihood of inbreeding.
You can read more on that here.
The likely inevitable extinction of lions follows closely behind other recent big cat extinctions: the extinction of European lions during roman times, cave lions about 12000 years ago, the American lion about 11000 years ago, and sabretooth cats about 11000 years ago. These extinctions have led to considerable changes throughout their former territories.