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The size of savannah Africa: a lion’s (Panthera leo) view

Jason Riggio, et al.; January 2013

We define African savannahs as being those areas that receive between 300 and 1,500 mm of rain annually. This broad definition encompasses a variety of habitats. Thus defined, savannahs comprise 13.5 million km2 and encompass most of the present range of the African lion (Panthera leo). Dense human populations and extensive conversion of land to human use preclude use by lions. Using high-resolution satellite imagery and human population density data we define lion areas, places that likely have resident lion populations. In 1960, 11.9 million km2 of these savannahs had fewer than 25 people per km2. The comparable area shrank to 9.7 million km2 by 2000. Areas of savannah Africa with few people have shrunk considerably in the last 50 years and human population projections suggest they will likely shrink significantly in the next 40. The current extent of free-ranging lion populations is 3.4 million km2 or about 25 % of savannah area. Habitats across this area are fragmented; all available data indicate that between 32,000 and 35,000 free-ranging lions live in 67 lion areas. Although these numbers are similar to previous estimates, they are geographically more comprehensive. There is abundant evidence of widespread declines and local extinctions. Under the criteria we outline, ten lion areas qualify as lion strongholds: four in East Africa and six in Southern Africa. Approximately 24,000 lions are in strongholds, with an additional 4,000 in potential ones. However, over 6,000 lions are in populations of doubtful long-term viability. Lion populations in West and Central Africa are acutely threatened with many recent, local extinctions even in nominally protected areas.

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