West African lions are different, new research


This video says about itself:

West African lion – Video Learning – WizScience.com

24 September 2015

The “West African lion” , also known as the “Senegal lion”, is a lion subspecies native to western Africa. Results of genetic research indicate that the Western and Central African lions form a different clade of lions and are perhaps more related to Asian lions than to lions from southern or eastern Africa. The genetic distinctiveness is particular of interest, since lions are regionally endangered in western Africa. With a total population of perhaps less than 1,000 individuals in all of West and Central Africa and no captive population, the West African lion is one of the most endangered subspecies of big cats.

Lions from western and central Africa are believed to be smaller than lions from southern Africa. It is also suggested that they have smaller manes, live in smaller groups, and they may also differ in the shape of their skull.

In the Pendjari National Park area, which is within the range of the West African lion, almost all males are maneless or have very weak manes.

The West African lion is distributed in western Africa south of the Sahara from Senegal in the west to the Central African Republic in the east. Another subspecies or North East Congo lion is traditionally described from northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Lions are rare in western Africa and may be critically endangered in this region. In 2004 there were probably only 450-1,300 lions left in West Africa. In addition, there were about 550-1,550 in Central Africa. In both regions, the area inhabited by lions has been reduced until 2004 to less than 15% of the historic range.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Lions in West and Central Africa apparently unique

10 August 2016

Lions in West and Central Africa form a unique group, only distantly related to lions in East and Southern Africa. Biologists at Leiden University confirm this in an article published in Scientific Reports.

Genetic data

In this study, the researchers gathered a genetic dataset of lion populations covering a total of 22 countries. This included samples from each remaining lion population in West and Central Africa, a region where lions and other wildlife are rapidly declining as a consequence of the increasing human population. The researchers managed to gather all the information by teaming up with other people in the field and local conservationists.

300,000 years ago

Based on the genetic data, it was estimated that the split between the two major groups that can be identified in the lion must have occurred 300,000 years ago. To explain what happened in their evolution, the researchers made a reconstruction of African climatological history. It seems that periodic expansions of the rain forest and the desert drove lions into isolated pockets of suitable habitat, where the different genetic lineages originated that can still be observed today.

Other mammals

This influenced not only the patterns we observe in the lion, but also in other large mammals such as giraffe, buffalo, hartebeest, cheetah and spotted hyena. A general pattern is emerging that shows that many large African savannah mammals show very similar arrangements, with unique lineages in West and Central Africa.

Reason for concern

The strong declines in wildlife populations in large parts of West and Central Africa are therefore a reason for major concern. The fact that this region seems to harbour a lot of unique genetic lineages makes conservation in the area extremely important. A delegation from Leiden University will participate in the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2016, and will lead a Side Event that aims to establish a Species Action Plan for West and Central Africa. The researchers hope that this will facilitate coordination and funding of projects in the region.

When University of Michigan wildlife ecologist Nyeema Harris started her multiyear camera survey of West African wildlife, she sought to understand interactions between mammals and people in protected areas such as national parks. She expected those interactions to include lots of poaching. Instead, livestock grazing and the gathering of forest products were among the most common human-related activities her cameras captured, while poaching was actually the rarest: here.

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