Lions have been found in a little-visited area of north-west Ethiopia, making them one of the most northerly populations of the species in the whole of Africa.
Scientists made the remarkable discovery after setting up remote cameras in Alatash National Park near the border with Sudan.
Dr Hans Bauer, of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), said there was likely to an extended lion population shared between Alatash and Dinder NP in Sudan.
But, with limited surface water, prey densities would be low, leading to low lion numbers. “On a total surface area of about 10,000km2, this would mean a population of 100-200 lions, of which 27-54 would be in Alatash,” Bauer added.
Though now rare, lions are not unknown in Ethiopia. They are mainly found in a remote area bordering South Sudan, where previous research has estimated there are some 500 individuals in the Boma-Gambella region, and further south towards the Kenya border in Omo and Mago National Parks.
Last year, the Born Free Foundation – which supported the latest WildCRU expedition – warned that lions are under severe pressure in Ethiopia because of a booming human population, which now stands at nearly 102 million, the second highest in Africa.
Born Free chief executive officer Adam Roberts said the Alatash-Dinder population was an exciting discovery.
Though local people knew of their existence, the scientific community was unaware there were lions in Alatash NP. ©WildCRU
“With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important,” he added, “especially in Ethiopia, whose government is a significant conservation ally.”
The news also coincides with Born Free’s ‘Year of the Lion’, which has been declared to highlight the big cat’s plight and to mark the 50th anniversary of the film about Elsa the lioness, Born Free.
Find out more about the Year of the Lion
Read the IUCN’s assessment of the lion’s conservation status on the Red List of Threatened Species