By Fabian Ekeruche, NAN
Wild Africa Fund has called for the protection of Lions by reducing illegal bushmeat consumption and supporting better protection of their shrinking habitat.
The organization also calls for championing anti-poaching measures.
Mr Kelechukwu Iruoma, Wild Africa Fund Nigeria Representative, made the call in a statement on Thursday in Lagos to mark World Lion Day.
Iruoma said that only about 120 to 374 lions remained in West Africa currently, compared to Southern Africa, “where these majestic cats are generally well protected, maintaining stable populations.”
According to him, West African lions face extinction, losing 99 per cent of their historic range.
He said that beyond habitat loss, lions have suffered a decline in prey species such as antelope due to bush meat trade and were frequently killed in retaliation for preying on livestock.
He added that the snares and traps set for bush meat often injured and killed lions.
He said that in Nigeria, the fewer than 50 lions left in the wild were found in Kainji Lake National Park and the Yankari Games Reserve, both in Northern Nigeria.
Iruoma said that several researchers tried to find lions in the wild in Ghana without success.
He noted that lions had disappeared completely in several West African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, and Sierra Leone.
“West African lions might disappear forever if we don’t urgently address the threats they face.
“If we can protect their habitats more effectively, they could bounce back and boost our tourism,” said Festus Iyorah, Nigeria Representative for Wild Africa Fund.
Iruoma said that Wild Africa Fund believed it was possible to halt the decline of lions and restore their numbers, following the lead of countries that have brought lion populations back from the brink of extinction.
He said that in Rwanda, lions were wiped out in the 1990s during the civil war and the 1994 genocide.
He said that subsequently, farmers who settled on land previously inhabited by lions poisoned them to protect their livestock.
He said that after over a decade of absence, seven lions were reintroduced from South Africa to Rwanda’s Akagera National Park in 2015, followed by two more male lions that were added to the park in 2017.
He said that currently the park had a thriving population of about 58 lions.
He said that Rwanda’s example showed that it was never too late to protect and rebuild West Africa’s critically endangered lions, especially in countries like Ghana, where lions were possibly extinct.
“Lions are perhaps the most iconic African animal and have massive cultural significance.
“Their disappearance in West Africa would be tragic and squander an opportunity to foster wildlife tourism that has provided millions of jobs in East and Southern Africa,” Iruoma quoted Peter Knights, co-founder and CEO of Wild Africa Fund as saying.
Iruoma said that the fund had launched a month-long public awareness campaign, using radio, TV, newspapers, billboard, and social media to inform people about the threats facing West African lions and the need to reduce their demand for illegal bush meat.
He added that the campaign would feature messages from top celebrity ambassadors, including Davido and Alex Iwobi, and short documentaries highlighting ongoing efforts to protect lions and their habitat.