In 2012 a study was conducted that examined the genetics of the 20 lions in Ethiopia, a country in Northeastern Africa. The reason that the study targeted these 20 lions is that they were last of their kind. Ethiopian lions tend to be much smaller and darker in color than those found across the rest of the continent, and, as the study found, are genetically unique (though not unique enough to earn species or sub-species status) too.
Breeding back a lost population from 20 lions is tricky business, and gets even harder when the facility in which these special lions are kept is lacking funds and resources. However, hope was found this week as an estimated population of 200 lions were caught on camera traps in a remote part of Ethiopia.
People can’t help but think of majestic lions when they think of African wildlife, but unfortunately their numbers all across the continent have decreased drastically due to hunting, both legal and illegal, habitat loss, prey loss, and retaliatory killings. With only 20,000 lions found across the entirety of the continent, and an estimated drop in half the population within the next 20 years, time is running out for these big cats.
That is why this recent discovery made by University of Oxford’s WildCRU (thats Wildlife Conservation Research Unit) is such amazing news. Not only does this mean that the lion population is, if only slightly, higher than previously thought, but those new individuals may be part of a population previously thought extinct in the wild. This group of lions is thought to be of a sub-species of which only 900 remain.
WildCRU’s work with lions has been gaining a lot of media attention lately, whether you knew it or not. They were the group who had collared Cecil the lion, who was shot and killed in 2015 by an American dentist.
There is still a long way to go to determining the size of this lion population. Right now the WildCRU team has identified lion tracks and has captured images on camera traps but the population estimation is still a rough guess.