Born Free-supported expedition discovers lions living in remote area of Africa
Wildlife conservationists have confirmed for the first time that lions are living in a remote national park in Ethiopia, following a recent expedition supported by Born Free.
“The amazing discovery was made after an expedition into the heart of Alatash National Park in North West Ethiopia, on the Ethiopia-Sudan border, led by Dr Hans Bauer, a renowned lion conservationist working for Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU),” a statement from Born Free said.
Alatash is a huge region that very few people have visited. Though lions are thought to have been present there for centuries, and locals knew of their existence in the area, the international community was unaware. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) only considered Alatash a ‘possible range’ for the species.
But in a ground-breaking discovery, Dr Bauer and his team found original and undisputable evidence of lions in the region – successfully obtaining camera trap images of lions and identifying lion tracks. The team also concluded lions were likely to exist in the larger, adjacent Dinder National Park across the border in Sudan.
Dr Hans Bauer said: “Lions are definitely present in Alatash National Park and in Dinder National Park. Lion presence in Alatash has not previously been confirmed in meetings at national or international level.
“Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder. Due to limited surface water, prey densities are low, and lion densities are likely to be low, we may conservatively assume a density in the range of one to two lions per 100 km2. On a total surface area of about 10,000 km2, this would mean a population of 100-200 lions for the entire ecosystem, of which 27–54 would be in Alatash,” he added.
The African lion is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with a declining trend throughout most of its range. Lion numbers are estimated to have declined 50% to 75% since 1980 and the species only occupies 8% of its historic range across the continent. Lions were thought to be locally extinct in Sudan, so the new findings are encouraging. Now the expedition is complete, the next step is to communicate with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and look at the needs for conservation in the area so this previously undiscovered lion stronghold can be protected.
Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA Chief Executive Officer, Adam M. Roberts, commented: “The confirmation that lions persist in this area is exciting news. With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important – especially in Ethiopia, whose government is a significant conservation ally. We need to do all we can to protect these animals and the ecosystem on which they depend, along with all the other remaining lions across Africa, so we can reverse the declines and secure their future.”
The discovery comes as Born Free declares 2016 The Year of the Lion to highlight the plight of lions worldwide and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Oscar-winning motion picture Born Free. The film starred actors and Born Free Foundation co-founders Virginia McKenna and her late husband, Bill Travers, as pioneering conservationists Joy and George Adamson and their successful rehabilitation of Elsa the lioness to the wild. Special screenings, activities, news and events are planned throughout 2016.