BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: World: Africa
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 23:40 GMT
Extinction threatens African lions
Lion in the wild
Traditional hunting areas are being lost
By the BBC's Helen Sewell

A major international conservation group has warned that lions could soon become extinct in large parts of Africa.

The World Conservation Union says the lion populations of west and central Africa are too small to be viable.

Lions used to roam freely around much of the world.

They died out in Europe about 2,000 years ago and disappeared from northern Africa and most of south-west Asia 150 years ago.

Africa's largest carnivore is not generally considered an endangered species.

But as agriculture spreads through west and central Africa, lions are losing their habitat.

Space encroached

An article in the journal New Scientist explains how the animals need huge tracts of land in which to hunt.

Each male needs between 20 and 200 square kilometres to find food, but that sort of uncultivated space is disappearing rapidly.

Lions are also being killed off by poisoning and hunting, which is still legal in some countries.

Scientists say that in order to avoid inbreeding, which can lead to damaging genetic weaknesses, each lion population should contain at least 500 animals.

But the largest populations in west and central Africa have around 200 lions, and most have only about 50.

Lions are at the top of the food chain, and biologists have warned that if the big cats become extinct this could have a serious knock-on effect, with other species of animals coming under threat.

See also:

22 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Africa's birds face farming threat
18 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
South Africa's floral riches at risk
27 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Gorillas do well despite war
05 Nov 00 | Media reports
'Extinct' lions surface in Siberia
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Africa stories