Dynasties: A Spotlight on West African Lions

by ZSL on

The BBC’s new series ‘Dynasties’, documents the plight of animal families from five different charismatic species across our planet. This week’s episode follows a lioness in Kenya’s Masai Mara as she battles to protect her cubs after she is abandoned by the males from her pride. Most of us are familiar with the lions of east and southern Africa, but often forget another very important population in West Africa. African lions are categorised by IUCN as Vulnerable, however, the separate subpopulation of lions in West Africa is classified as Critically Endangered. Found in Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, there are estimated to be just 404 individuals left, 90% of which can be found in one vast landscape.

West African lion walking along a dirt track

This 35,000km2 landscape is called the W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) Complex, made up of five National Parks, spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger, and including hunting zones and community-managed lands. ZSL has been working since 2014 to protect this critical remaining area of relatively intact savannah ecosystem in West Africa. It is not only home to 90% of the region’s lions, but also holds a crucial population of the Northwest African cheetah and over 60% of the region’s savannah elephants. 

West African lion walking past camera trap at night
West African lion caught on camera trap

The WAP is threatened by encroachment of herders and livestock, agricultural expansion, illegal logging, unsustainable hunting for bushmeat and poaching for ivory and large carnivores. ZSL and its partners are working to combat the illegal wildlife trade, monitor wildlife populations and increase site protection. Engaging communities in conservation activities within the parks and developing sustainable livelihood strategies that are linked to large carnivore conservation encourages and enables local people to integrate conservation into their daily lives and safeguard the future of this immensely important ecosystem.

By Hannah Klair, ZSL Africa Programme

Find out more about our work in the WAP

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