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Surveys of lions Panthera leo in protected areas in Zimbabwe yield disturbing results: what is driving the population collapse?

  • Rosemary J. Groom (a1), Paul J. Funston (a2) and Roseline Mandisodza (a3)


The African lion Panthera leo is an iconic species but it has faced dramatic range reductions and possibly as few as 30,000 individuals remain in the wild. In the absence of detailed ground-based surveys, lion populations may be estimated using regression models based on prey biomass availability but these often overestimate lion densities as a result of a variety of compounding factors. Anthropogenic factors can be key drivers of lion population dynamics and in areas with high human impact lion numbers may be significantly lower than those predicted by prey biomass models. This was investigated in two protected areas in Zimbabwe, where lion population densities were found to be significantly lower than would have been predicted by prey-availability models. High hunting quotas either within or around the protected areas are the most likely cause of the low lion numbers, with quotas in some areas being as high as seven lions per 1,000 km2 in some years. Other factors, including persecution, poisoning and problem animal control, as well as disease and competition with spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta, are also discussed.

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