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There are just 20,000 lions remaining in Africa. A new study suggests that their numbers may halve in just 20 years.

The research, carried out by a team led by lion expert Hans Bauer of Oxford University has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The study looked at 47 separate populations of African lions - totalling some 8,221 individuals - and found that lion numbers had reduced by half in West and Central Africa since 1993.  

The causes of the alarming reduction in lion numbers were thought to be the spread of farming and human settlements, along with the growing trade in bush meat, which has meant that there are fewer prey animals available for lions.

The study predicts that there is an almost 70% chance of the lion population in Central and West Africa halving again in the next 20 years.  Although lion numbers had decreased in East Africa, the drop was less drastic and the chances of lion numbers halving in this area in the next 20 years were 37%.

Not all the news from the research is bad though.  Lion popluations in Southern Africa had either remained stable or increased since 1993.

It seems likely that unless more action is taken to protect lions, we will reach a point at some point in the future where only the protected populations of game reserves will survive.

Photo by James Warwick

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