Green Monsters, some somber information has presented itself in a new research study in PLOS ONE conducted by a West Africa, U.K., Canada, and U.S. team. The news? West African lions have reached “catastrophic collapse” — they are nearly extinct — and they’ve reached this point without most of us ever realizing they were heading for it.

What’s going on?

Originally, West African lions were thought to still survive in 21 protected areas, yet, as Panthera’s Lion Program Survey Coordinator and study co-author, Dr. Philipp Henschel, explains, “We surveyed all of [the protected areas] … [and] our results came as a complete shock; all but a few of the areas we surveyed were basically paper parks, having neither management budgets nor patrol staff, and had lost all their lions and other iconic large mammals.”

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Now, it’s estimated that only 250 adult lions are restricted to just four isolated and “several imperiled populations,” with only one of these populations containing more than 50 lions, as reported by Panthera in a press release on the study.

The research team discovered that these lions only exist in five countries – Senegal, Nigeria and a single “trans-frontier population on the shared borders of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.”

Why has this happened?

Like with many stories of endangerment and extinction, humans play a key role in it, and so, naturally, we are a part of the story again with West African lions.

These lions have disappeared so quickly because of the growth of human populations and livestock herds and from poaching. Everyone is competing for land and ultimately, it’s wildlife like West Africa’s lions – who are crucial top predators for an ecosystem — that suffer.

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West Africa’s lions are particularly special, too, because they have “unique genetic sequences not found in any other lions, including in zoos or captivity,” explains Dr. Christine Breitenmoser, the co-chair of the IUCN/SCC Cat Specialist Group.

“If we lose the lion in West Africa, we will lose a unique, locally adapted population found no-where else. It makes their conservation even more urgent,” Dr. Breitenmoser continues.

How Can I Help?

What’s needed now is a united and strong front on conservation initiatives to bring West African lions back from the brink. A main aspect of this will be to engage local communities in protecting them and making sure that protected areas are well-equipped and well-staffed. It will also include assisting lion range countries with improving “management effectiveness.”

At home, we can help by:

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  • Supporting such conservation initiatives financially through organizations such as Panthera, who run the program “Project Leonardo,” along with supporting any conservation projects that need funding on platforms like LoveAnimals.org.
  • Offering support via donations or volunteering to anti-poaching initiatives such the International Anti-Poaching Foundation.
  • Spreading the word about the plight of West Africa’s lions by sharing this post and any others on their status and importance.

Have any other ideas on how to help these lions? Tell us and other Green Monsters with a comment below!

Image source: fortherock / Flickr

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