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The number of African lions in the wild has dropped from about 100,000 in 1960 to 32,000 today. (Frans Lanting / Corbis) The number of African lions in the wild has dropped from about 100,000 in 1960 to 32,000 today. (Frans Lanting / Corbis)

Losing Africa’s Lions

A new scientific study shows that lion populations are shrinking

By Michelle Bruner | February 22, 2013
More and more people are moving into the African plains, where lions live. (Anup Shah / Corbis)

More and more people are moving into the African plains, where lions live. (Anup Shah / Corbis)

Once, African lions were the kings of the jungle. But every day, they lose more and more of their home to humans.

A new study done by Duke University shows that humans have taken over much of the lions’ habitat. A habitat is an animal’s home in the wild. Lions live on the African plains, which are called savannas. In the past 50 years, the number of people living on the African plains has grown rapidly. At the same time, the number of lions had decreased by about 70 percent.

The research team at Duke University used detailed pictures taken by satellite to carefully examine the African landscape. They were able to see very small farms and towns that are taking over the once-open plains.

Lions need wide-open spaces to roam and hunt. As the number of people and towns has increased, the African plains have become less welcoming to lions. The number of lions has dropped from about 100,000 in 1960 to 32,000 today. West Africa has seen the most dramatic drop—fewer than 500 lions remain there.


Researchers worry that the number of lions will decrease even more as the number of humans moving onto the savannas increases. People and lions living closely together have to compete for natural resources like water and food.

Towns and farms that take over hunting grounds could force the lions out of those areas completely. Often, lions with no other sources of food will kill livestock (farm animals). Farmers will then kill the lions to protect their animals.

African lions are also threatened by poachers. A poacher is a person who hunts an animal illegally. Many poachers hunt lions for sport or to take their fur as trophies.


One of the authors of the Duke University study is conservationist Stuart Pimm. A conservationist is someone who looks at ways to best use Earth’s natural resources. Pimm believes the group’s research can be helpful in planning ways for people and lions to share the African plains.

One solution is to build higher fences to keep lions away from livestock. African governments could also expand and better protect their wildlife reserves. Then lions would have safe places to hunt and graze.

“I think one of the important things to stress is that this isn’t all gloom and doom,” says Pimm. “We’re using this information to very actively look at strategies for how we can protect lions.”

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