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Lions in the Wild Could Be Doomed Without A Lot More Money

October 24, 2018

In a just-published paper, researchers say that areas set aside to protect African lions are failing because of lack of funds.

The article, published by lead researcher Peter A. Lindsay and a team representing the U.S., Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Australia, and a number of African countries, looked into the challenge African nations have had in preserving the majestic lions that are one of the unique iconic mammals on the continent.

With war, poverty, drought and other impacts of global warming impacting those countries, it has become more difficult than ever to protect the animals. One way they have tried is to identify major areas as protected, making it illegal to hunt or harm the animals in any way.

Unfortunately, such locations require special funding to maintain them and to provide the necessary protective services to keep poachers and trophy hunters out. That is of course in addition to the costs for caring for the animals at a time when they too are suffering from the impacts of climate change.

In the new study, the researchers investigated a total of 282 designated wildlife protective areas throughout Africa. They concluded that most of those areas were grossly underfunded, so badly so that lion populations there have dropped by 43% over the last two decades. There are now only around 20,000 lions living there outside of zoos and other similar locations.

The study’s analysis of funding needs for the region were equally stark. They analyzed how much funding each of those 282 protected regions had received, along with their success rates in preserving the species. They then estimated, based on their collective understanding of what might be required, how much money the groups would have to raise to grow their populations by a minimum of 50 percent.

They concluded that to do that would cost between $1.2 to $2.4 billion annually. The bad news is that the parks currently receive only $381 million every year.

The study team did look into possible solutions to the funding gap. Heavy investments in wildlife parks in Kenya and South Africa, for example, have helped attract tourists from around the globe. Foreign investment is another option which they recommend investigating.

A previous study from Panthera, a global wild cat conservation organization, examined whether the current protected areas themselves might be a limiter to lion species growth, between water resources, food sources, and natural shelter. The conclusions then, which came out in February 2017, said the protected areas present at the time could easily handle four times their current animal populations.

Without something drastic done to protect the lions, the species will likely dwindle further rapidly.

The current study was published under the title, "More than $1 billion needed annually to secure Africa's protected areas with lions", by Peter A. Lindsey et. al. It was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1805048115

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