What does the future hold for this world once lions disappear?
Humans may be hard-pressed to believe that the decline of apex predator will soon lead to extinction, but a new study joins mounting research in confirming that lion populations are indeed sharply declining in large parts of Africa.
The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at 8,221 lions in 47 different areas across Africa and found steep drops in their populations in western and central Africa. These regions stand to lose half their lions – with much of east Africa losing a third of theirs – over the next two decades if trends continue.
And experts warned that a future without lions is a bleak one, with the loss of predators believed to be potentially “humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature.”
Extinction – unlike other ecological impacts such as climate change – is irreversible and can lead to a “trophic cascade” that will adversely affect to the food web and ecosystem. The elk population and their diet of the American west, for instance, were altered when wolves disappeared in the area.
Researchers writing in the journal Science said that trophic cascades are now well-documented in all parts of Earth, “from the poles to the tropics” and in land, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.
Disrupting the food web, however, isn’t the only concern that the loss of predators brings.
Wildfires can be more frequent and intense with uncontrolled herbivore population and vegetation changes, and infectious diseases can be more widespread. Olive baboons in Africa, for example, had increased contacts with people when the lions and leopards hunting them became scarce, and parasites better thrived in the baboons and the nearby humans.
Other effects include changes in soil microbiology, availability of water, biodiversity, and other elements that ensure food supply and environmental safety.
Filmmaker and conservationist Dereck Joubert also cited an economic reason for saving lions: the safari-led ecotourism that generates about $80 billion annually for Africa and which local communities depend on.
“As those tourism dollars diminished, so too would the will of the people to protect and grow national parks to preserve wildlife,” said Joubert, warning about the resulting poor health, poverty, poaching, and greater pressure for Western support for Africa through aid programs.
Calling it a global mandate, Joubert urged for dramatic changes to secure lions and the African wildlife and said it is a loss “too terrible to contemplate” once the world loses the roar of these predators.
Photo: Corey Leopold | Flickr