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Surprising Science

Lion Population Is Dwindling Along With Its Habitat

A new report indicates that more than 75 percent of savannah normally used by lions has been lost over the last 50 years due to increased human land development.

What’s the Latest Development?

A Duke University report published in this week’s Biodiversity and Conservation reveals that the amount of African savannah that traditionally served as home to lions — an area that was once a third larger than the US — has, over the last 50 years, dropped to about a quarter of its size. The researchers used Google Earth’s satellite imagery to examine land across the continent, looking for open savannah where lions would reside as well as pockets of human population. According to the data, only 67 regions remain where there might be significant lion communities, and of those, just 15 were believed to contain at least 500 lions.

What’s the Big Idea?

Lions fare a little better in eastern and southern Africa, where tourism spurs governments to protect them more closely. This isn’t the case in western Africa, where it was estimated that fewer than 500 lions remain across eight identified regions. Co-author Philipp Henschel says that governments in that area have little incentive to ensure their survival and will need help in the form of “significant foreign assistance [to aid] in stabilizing remaining populations until sustainable local conservation efforts can be developed.”

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