- Wildlife conservationists have confirmed, for the first time, the presence of a previously undiscovered population of African lions in Alatash National Park located in a remote part of northwest Ethiopia.
- Based on lions captured on cameras and observed lion tracks, the team from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit estimates that 100-200 lions could be present throughout Alatash, and neighboring Dinder National Park in Sudan.
- The discovery of lions on Ethiopia-Sudan border raises hope for the “vulnerable” African lions, which have otherwise been wiped out from much of Ethiopia, conservationists say.
In a remote part of northwestern Ethiopia, in Alatash National Park, wildlife conservationists have confirmed — for the first time — the presence of a previously undiscovered population of African lions, Born Free Foundation announced on February 1.
Calling it a “ground-breaking discovery”, conservationists say that they have found “undisputable” evidence of lions in Alatash. While on an expedition in Alatash, a team from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) heard roars of lions, captured some lions on cameras, and recorded multiple lion tracks on dry riverbeds, according to a report released on Monday.
The team estimates that lions are likely present throughout Alatash, and neighboring Dinder National Park in Sudan. There could be up to 200 lions in the Alatash-Dinder ecosystem, conservationists say, of which around 50 lions could be present in Alatash.
“Lions are definitely present in Alatash National Park and in Dinder National Park,” Hans Bauer, a lion conservationist at WildCRU who led the expedition in Alatash, said in a statement. “Lion presence in Alatash has not previously been confirmed in meetings at national or international level.
“Due to limited surface water, prey densities are low, and lion densities are likely to be low, we may conservatively assume a density in the range of one to two lions per 100 square kilometers,” he added. “On a total surface area of about 10,000 square kilometers, this would mean a population of 100-200 lions for the entire ecosystem, of which 27–54 would be in Alatash.”
The findings are, however, not peer-reviewed. Moreover, a small sample size, and a short expedition could make accurate estimation of lion population difficult, Luke Dollar, a wildlife biologist, told National Geographic.
Still, the discovery of lions on Ethiopia-Sudan border raises hope for the “vulnerable” African lions, which have otherwise been wiped out from much of Ethiopia.
The main threat to Alatash National Park, the researchers write, is poaching, mainly by an ethnic group of pastoralists called “Felata”. These poachers are often armed with modern and traditional weapons, and spend several months inside the park every year, with their livestock, the team adds.
“With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important – especially in Ethiopia, whose government is a significant conservation ally,” Born Free’s Chief Executive Adam M. Roberts, said in the statement. “We need to do all we can to protect these animals and the ecosystem on which they depend, along with all the other remaining lions across Africa, so we can reverse the declines and secure their future.”