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World Lion Day: Nigeria’s most iconic species on verge of extinction – WildAid

WildAid, a US-based environmental organisation that focuses on reducing the demand for wildlife products, launched a weeklong campaign to raise awareness about the threats facing Nigeria’s lions on Wednesday, August 10, 2022, and called on Nigerians to protect the iconic species as the world celebrates World Lion Day, a special moment dedicated to celebrating one of the world’s most beautiful and fearsome species.

Lions
Lions

Over the last 50 years, the number of wild lions across Africa has plummeted from 200,000 to roughly 20,000, according to WildAid, adding that the crisis is most acute in West Africa, where there are only about 400 lions left, surviving in a few small, isolated clusters.

According to the group, lions in Nigeria are on the verge of extinction, with scientists estimating that there may be fewer than 50 adult lions left in the wild.

In the past, lions roamed northern Nigeria in large numbers, primarily residing in the Kainji Lake National Park and the Yankari Game Reserve in northern Nigeria.

“Hunting for bushmeat has seriously depleted lions’ natural prey base, while population growth and the expansion of agricultural land has badly eaten into their habitats,” said Simon Denyer, senior Africa representative for WildAid. “Lions in Nigeria and across West Africa need urgent help to prevent them from disappearing forever.”

Lion
The lion killed in Malari village of Konduga LG, Borno State

The intense pressures on lions’ natural prey caused by the bushmeat trade and the erosion of their habitats often force them to kill cattle for food. That in turn brings lions into conflict with humans, who kill lions in retaliation, sometimes using poison. Snares and traps set by bushmeat hunters also often inadvertently catch lions and other predators.

Lion populations in East and Southern Africa are feeling the same pressures – even in Tanzania, which is considered to be the stronghold of Africa’s remaining lions. Tanzania has the largest population of lions in Africa with about 8,000 animals left in the wild. They provide an important draw for Tanzania’s tourism industry, which generates around 1.5 million jobs and contributes around 17 percent to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“It is not too late to save Nigeria’s lions, but we need to act now to protect them,” said WildAid Nigeria Representative, Kelechukwu Iruoma. “We urge the Nigerian government to update its wildlife laws to combat the threats facing lions and other wildlife.”

“It is also important to improve enforcement and anti-poaching patrols around national parks, including working with communities around the parks to stop the illegal bushmeat trade,” he added. “Other stakeholders also need to collaborate to raise awareness of the need to protect the country’s remaining lions, and to promote wildlife conservation and tourism, creating jobs and revenue.”

WildAid is also calling on all Nigerians to “Say No to Illegal Bushmeat,” as a way to ease some of those pressures on lions and other important species in the country.

Facts about lions

Lions are social animals, living in prides of between two and 40 animals. The females tend to stay in their birth pride and are all related, while males split off to create their own prides.

Lions often hunt at night, taking advantage of good nocturnal eyesight, and in storms when it is easier to creep up on their prey undetected. Still, only around 30 percent of hunts are successful.

Lionesses do more of the hunting while males often stay behind to protect the pride. Some lionesses circle prey, playing the role of “wings” while others act as “centers” waiting for prey to be driven towards them for the kill. But the males do also hunt, and sometimes have an edge when it comes to larger prey.

Lions are the only big cats who roar together, in a show of strength or to warn of danger. Roars can be heard up to 8 km away.

WildAid’s campaign

In January, WildAid launched a public awareness conservation campaign in Nigeria to highlight the illegal bushmeat trade and support enforcement activities to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

The campaign uses the slogans “Say No to Illegal Bushmeat”, “Keep Them Wild, Keep Us Safe” and “Poaching Steals From Us All.”

The campaign includes TV public service announcements (PSAs), billboards, social media campaigns, and radio and TV programmes. Prominent “wildlife ambassadors” from music, Nollywood, sports, religion, and entertainment have added their voices to the campaign, including Davido, Mayorkun, Laycon, Alex Iwobi, Henry Onyekuru, Stephanie Linus, Emanuella and Josh2funny.

“We have also developed partnerships with religious and conservation groups and built robust media partnerships with over two-dozen broadcast, print and online organisations to amplify the campaign messages,” says the group.

As part of the campaign, WildAid says it is committed to helping Nigeria strengthen the enforcement of its wildlife laws and has formed partnerships with government agencies involved in enforcing both local and international wildlife regulations to create a unified approach to tackling the bushmeat problem.

WildAid is currently working with the Lagos State Government to update its wildlife protection laws, as well as with Nigeria Customs Service and the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) to support efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and prevent the use of Nigerian ports and airports as transit hubs for wildlife trafficking. 

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