Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 17-35

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

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

  • Jason RiggioAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityNational Geographic Society, Big Cats Initiative
  • , Andrew JacobsonAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityNational Geographic Society, Big Cats Initiative
  • , Luke DollarAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityDepartment of Biology, Pfeiffer UniversityNational Geographic Society, Big Cats Initiative
  • , Hans BauerAffiliated withWildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford
  • , Matthew BeckerAffiliated withZambian Carnivore ProgrammeDepartment of Ecology, Montana State University
  • , Amy DickmanAffiliated withWildlife Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford
  • , Paul FunstonAffiliated withDepartment of Nature Conservation, Tshwane University of Technology
  • , Rosemary GroomAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, University of JohannesburgAfrican Wildlife Conservation Fund
  • , Philipp HenschelAffiliated withPanthera
    • , Hans de IonghAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityInstitute of Environmental SciencesDepartment Biology, Evolutionary Ecology Group, University of Antwerp
    • , Laly LichtenfeldAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityAfrican People & Wildlife FundDepartment of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
    • , Stuart PimmAffiliated withNicholas School of the Environment, Duke UniversityNational Geographic Society, Big Cats Initiative Email author 

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Lion Panthera leo Africa Distribution Savannah Google Earth Threatened species Endangered species Red List Functional extinction Top predator