African lion counts miss the mark, but new method shows promise

June 17, 2020

The current technique used for counting lion populations for research and conservation efforts doesn't add up, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

But UQ PhD candidate Mr Alexander Braczkowski has been investigating new methods of photographing and data analytics to count lions that could be more widely used.

"African lions receive immense publicity and conservation attention," Mr Braczkowski said.

"Yet their populations are thought to have experienced a 50 per cent decline since 1994 - coincidentally the same year Disney's The Lion King was released.

"Current calculations suggest that between 20,000 and 30,000 lions remain in the wild - scattered among 102 populations across approximately 2.5 million square kilometres of Africa.

"Our research shows that the majority of estimates on African lion population and density are based on track counts, audio lure surveys and expert solicitation - which are simply not reliable enough to understand how lion populations are doing over time."

According to Mr Braczkowski, a recently developed technique has shown promise in better counting big cats and understanding their movements.

"It involves driving extensively and searching actively for lions, and then taking high quality photographs to individually identify them and noting their locations," Mr Braczkowski said.

"We use an analytical method known as Spatially Explicit Capture-Recapture (SECR).

"For African lions, it was first applied in the Maasai Mara by Dr Nicholas Elliot and Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy, and has now been adopted by the Kenya Wildlife Service and others to survey lions and other carnivores across the country."

Mr Braczkowski and his colleagues have trialled the technique to better understand the status and density of lions in Uganda's Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area.

"This was the perfect place to use this novel approach since lions at Queen Elizabeth spend a lot of their time up in trees and it is relatively straightforward to get good pictures of them," Mr Braczkowski said.

"Due to this unique tree-climbing behaviour, managers and tourists at this park very frequently see lions.

"But, our study showed that these lions are now moving more and have larger home range sizes compared to a previous study conducted about a decade ago

Dr Arjun Gopalaswamy, a co-author and science advisor to the Wildlife Conservation Society's Global Programs said, since larger home range sizes in big cats are usually associated with reduced density due to poorer prey availability, this is a concerning trend.

"There's great value in using methods that keep track of lion populations directly and we urge conservation and research communities to cease using ad hoc, indirect methods and shift to more reliable and direct methods."
-end-
The research has been published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2020.00138) and Ecological Solutions and Evidence (DOI: 10.1002/2688-8319.12015).

University of Queensland

Related Lions Articles from Brightsurf:

Texas A&M lion genetics study uncovers major consequences of habitat fragmentation
Over the course of only a century, humanity has made an observable impact on the genetic diversity of the lion population.

Early-arriving endangered Chinook salmon take the brunt of sea lion predation
A new University of Washington and NOAA Fisheries study found that sea lions have the largest negative effect on early-arriving endangered Chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River.

Explaining teamwork in male lions
Biologists from the Wildlife Institute of India and the University of Minnesota demonstrated the hows and whys of cooperation among male lions.

Unknown details identified in the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra
A novel methodology was followed based on three complementary graphic analyses: first, outstanding images from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries were reviewed; then new computer drawings were made of their muqarnas, following the theoretical principles of their geometrical grouping; and finally, a three-dimensional scan was made to ascertain their precise current state from the point cloud obtained.

Where lions operate, grazers congregate ... provided food is great
Meals are typically family affairs for zebras, gazelles, cape buffalo and other grazing species in the African Serengeti, but in one of the first studies of its kind, ecologists have found grazing species can be more willing to share meals in areas frequented by lions.

Pantera leo's family tree takes shape
Once upon a time, lions were the world's most widespread mammals.

African lion counts miss the mark, but new method shows promise
The current technique used for counting lion populations for research and conservation efforts doesn't add up, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

Scientists report on crucial reduction of Indian lion genome diversity
Scientists analyzed the genomes of extinct and living lions. They managed to determine when the divergence took place, as well as come to several other conclusions on genetic diversity of the modern lion population in India.

Where lions roam: West African big cats show no preference between national parks, hunting zones
West African lions are a critically endangered subpopulation, with an estimated 400 remaining and strong evidence of ongoing declines.

Improving assessments of an endangered lion population in India
An alternative method for monitoring endangered lions in India could improve estimates of their abundance and help inform conservation policy and management decisions.

Read More: Lions News and Lions Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.