National Geographic : 2013 Aug
estimates suggest that the lion has disappeared from about 80 percent of its African range. No one knows how many lions survive today in Africa---as many as 35,000?---because wild lions are di cult to count. Experts agree, though, that just within recent decades the overall total has declined signi cantly. e causes are multiple--- including habitat loss and fragmentation, poach- ing of lion prey for bush meat, poachers' snares that catch lions instead, displacement of lion prey by livestock, disease, spearing or poisoning of lions in retaliation for livestock losses and attacks upon humans, ritual killing of lions (notably with- in the Maasai tradition), and unsustainable trophy hunting for lions, chie y by a uent Americans. e new assessments, compiled by scientists from Panthera (an international felid conser- vation group), Duke University, the National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative, and elsewhere, indicate that African lions now live in nearly 70 distinct areas (map, pages 70-71), the largest and most secure of which can be consid- ered strongholds. But the smallest contain only tiny populations, isolated, genetically limited, and lacking viability for the long term. In other words, the African lion inhabits an archipelago of insular refuges, and more than a few of those marooned populations may soon go extinct. to stanch the losses and reverse the trend? Some experts say we should focus e orts on the strongholds, such as the Serengeti ecosystem (spanning Tanzania to Kenya), the Selous ecosystem (southeastern Tanzania), the Ruaha-Rungwa (western Tan- zania), the Okavango-Hwange (Botswana into Zimbabwe), and the Greater Limpopo (at the shared corners of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, including Kruger National Park). ose ve ecosystems alone account for roughly half of Africa's lions, and each contains a genetically viable population. Craig Packer has offered a drastic suggestion for further protecting some strongholds: Fence them, or at least some of their margins. Investing conservation dollars in chain-link and posts, combined with adequate levels of patrolling and repair, he argues, is the best way to limit illegal entry into protected areas by herders, their livestock, and poachers, as well as reckless exit from those areas by lions. Other experts strongly disagree. In fact, this fencing idea goes against three decades of By David Quammen Photographs by Brent Stirton Contributing writer David Quammen received the 2012 Stephen Jay Gould Prize from the Society for the Study of Evolution. Documentary photographer Brent Stirton's October 2012 elephant-ivory story won the POY Environmental Vision Award.