Lion (Panthera leo) populations are declining rapidly across Africa, except in intensively managed areas
We compiled all credible repeated lion surveys and present time series data for 47 lion (Panthera leo) populations. We used a Bayesian state space model to estimate growth rate-λ for each population and summed these into three regional sets to provide conservation-relevant estimates of trends since 1990. We found a striking geographical pattern: African lion populations are declining everywhere, except in four southern countries (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe). Population models indicate a 67% chance that lions in West and Central Africa decline by one-half, while estimating a 37% chance that lions in East Africa also decline by one-half over two decades. We recommend separate regional assessments of the lion in the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species: already recognized as critically endangered in West Africa, our analysis supports listing as regionally endangered in Central and East Africa and least concern in southern Africa. Almost all lion populations that historically exceeded ∼500 individuals are declining, but lion conservation is successful in southern Africa, in part because of the proliferation of reintroduced lions in small, fenced, intensively managed, and funded reserves. If management budgets for wild lands cannot keep pace with mounting levels of threat, the species may rely increasingly on these southern African areas and may no longer be a flagship species of the once vast natural ecosystems across the rest of the continent.