WildAid launched a weeklong campaign to raise awareness about the threats facing Nigeria’s lions on Wednesday and called on Nigerians to protect the iconic species as the world celebrates World Lion Day, a special moment dedicated to celebrating one of the world’s most beautiful, fearsome and iconic species.
Over the last 50 years, the number of wild lions across Africa has plummeted from 200,000 to roughly 20,000. The crisis is most acute in West Africa, where there are only about 400 lions left, surviving in a few small, isolated clusters. In Nigeria, lions are on the verge of extinction, with scientists estimating that there may be fewer than 50 adult lions left in the wild.
In the past, lions roamed northern Nigeria in large numbers, primarily residing in the Kainji Lake National Park and the Yankari Game Reserve in northern Nigeria.
“Hunting for bushmeat has seriously depleted lions’ natural prey base, while population growth and the expansion of agricultural land has badly eaten into their habitats,” said Simon Denyer, senior Africa representative for WildAid. “Lions in Nigeria and across West Africa need urgent help to prevent them from disappearing forever.”
The intense pressures on lions’ natural prey caused by the bushmeat trade and the erosion of their habitats often force them to kill cattle for food. That in turn brings lions into conflict with humans, who kill lions in retaliation, sometimes using poison. Snares and traps set by bushmeat hunters also often inadvertently catch lions and other predators.
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Lion populations in East and Southern Africa are feeling the same pressures – even in Tanzania, which is considered to be the stronghold of Africa’s remaining lions. Tanzania has the largest population of lions in Africa with about 8,000 animals left in the wild. They provide an important draw for Tanzania’s tourism industry, which generates around 1.5 million jobs and contributes around 17 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“It is not too late to save Nigeria’s lions but we need to act now to protect them,” said WildAid Nigeria Representative Kelechukwu Iruoma. “We urge the Nigerian government to update its wildlife laws to combat the threats facing lions and other wildlife.”
“It is also important to improve enforcement and anti-poaching patrols around national parks, including working with communities around the parks to stop the illegal bushmeat trade,” he added. “Other stakeholders also need to collaborate to raise awareness of the need to protect the country’s remaining lions, and to promote wildlife conservation and tourism, creating jobs and revenue.”
WildAid is also calling on all Nigerians to “Say No to Illegal Bushmeat,” as a way to ease some of those pressures on lions and other important species in the country.