Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Big cats that once roamed the world have less space to call home

By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff

A mother lion and cub are pictured lounging in Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve in this photo supplied by the Kenya Tourist Board. Photo: Kenya Tourist Board/MCT 

LAGOS, Nigeria — Africa is running out of lions, and scientists are worried. Philipp Henschel studies lions. He says the big cats used to be found on the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, and even North America.
The 40-year-old scientist says that up until 11,000 years ago, lions roamed much of the world. Now, they are only in the country of India and on the continent of Africa.
Indian officials say only about 500 lions are left in India.

Earth Could Lose Its Wild Lions

A group called the International Union for Conservation of Nature says that even fewer lions still roam Africa. Fewer than 20,000 lions are left in the wild there.
West Africa is made up of 18 small countries. It is one part of the continent of Africa. Last year, Henschel wrote a report stating that there are only 400 lions left in West Africa. They could be the most endangered lions on the planet.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has a list of endangered animals. West African lions are on the list. Henschel says that the United States might soon list the lions as endangered, too.

A Surprising Park Find

Henschel says he looked for lions in West Africa for a long time. Six years ago, he found one in a park in Nigeria, a country in West Africa.
Henschel says he was surprised because Nigeria has the most people in Africa and it only has small parks. "Everyone was excited, including rangers from Nigeria's National Park Service. It was the first time they had seen one too," he says.
West African lions have little or no mane, and are a symbol of pride in Nigeria. At the time, there were fewer than 35 left in Nigeria.
Since then, Henschel has searched all the parks in West Africa for lions. There are 21 parks that protect lions there, but he has only found nine lions.
Henschel lives in West Africa in a country called Gabon. No one had seen a lion in Gabon for 20 years. Recently, a scientist was there filming chimpanzees when a lion crossed in front of her camera.
Scientists named the lion Ali, and found out that he is almost 5 years old. Henschel's group is searching for two female lions for Ali. Scientists hope to help Gabon's lion population to grow stronger.

Southern Africa Is Doing Better

Lion populations are shrinking all over Africa. The situation is especially bad in the west and middle parts of the continent. A study shows a large drop there in the number of lions over the last 25 years. Scientists worry that the areas could lose half their lions in the next 20 years.
Henschel helped with that study. It also says that half the lion population of East Africa could disappear. There are 20 countries in East Africa.
The study says the south part of Africa is doing better than other parts of the continent. The lion population is increasing in four of the five countries there.

Lions Are Running Out Of Land And Food

Humans are the reason that lions are disappearing in Africa. People are farming land that the lions need, and poaching animals that the lions eat. Poachers hunt without permission.
Earth is getting warmer, which affects where the plants that animals eat can grow. Animals disappear and lions have nothing to eat.
Less usable land also causes problems between cattle shepherds and farmers. They are fighting over land. Even less space is left for the lions. As a result, lions leave protected areas to find cattle. Henschel says shepherds sometimes poison dead cattle to kill the lions that eat them.
Hunting is another danger to African lions. Earlier this year in Zimbabwe, a famous lion named Cecil was killed by an American hunter. Zimbabwe is a country in southern Africa. Reports say Cecil was lured out of a national park to be killed. People all over the world were very upset.
Henschel hopes to use Cecil's death to raise money for African lions. He and other scientists want to make sure that the lions do not completely disappear.

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