A report, led by the global wildcat conservation organisation Panthera, states that Africa’s protected parks and reserves could support three to four times the number of wild lions that they currently contain, if given adequate funding and management.
The study looked at population numbers within Africa’s protected areas and established that African lions and their prey species were well below their natural potential.
The research found that less than one third of the 175 parks/reserves examined held lions at more than 50 per cent of their ‘carrying capacity’ – their natural population level given minimal human threat.
“African governments have set aside enough space to conserve lions,” said Dr Peter Lindsey, Panthera’s research associate.
“We just need to find ways to enable those areas to be funded sufficiently and managed effectively.”
Lion numbers have reduced significantly over recent years, with an estimated 20,000 wild individuals in all of Africa, compared to 30,000 two decades ago.
Panthera states that Africa’s protected areas have the potential to support as many as 83,000 free-ranging lions.
Dwindling African lion populations are caused by a variety of factors including human-lion conflict, encroachment of protected areas by humans and livestock, the illegal bushmeat trade and the emerging threat of lion poaching for the illegal wildlife trade.
Read the full report in Biological Conservation.
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine