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If Western African lions had stripes, would we pay more attention?

Photoshop aside, they are unique, highly endangered, and largely ignored by all of us. Past blogs have emphasized their plight, but few of us actually realize what it would mean to lose these animals. If they had stripes then maybe we would be more motivated?


As mentioned before, western African lions are getting ever thinner on the ground. So why should we care? After all, southern and eastern Africa still maintain lions in some (declining) numbers. And if the western African range states have not elected to conserve them, then that is their particular loss is it not?


Western African lions are special


Actually, no. Western African lions are a unique world heritage. There are a lot fewer of them left than Bengal tigers, and they are irreplaceable. Recent genetic studies by the University of Leiden have revealed they are more closely related to Indian lions than southern African lions. It does make sense. Northern African lions (also known as Barbary lions) are now extinct in the wild but possibly some of their genes survive in zoos.  The northern African lions made territorial gains in southern Europe, the Middle East, Persia, and western India, the only place they now remain. Their close relatives, the western African lions, were less adventurous and stayed put, but they might soon follow Barbary lions to extinction in the wild. With the exception that this will be a final extinction – there are no western African lions in zoos.

Biodiversity is a diverse concept


Biodiversity is built on three pillars. Habitat diversity, faunal and floral diversity, and genetic diversity. That last pillar is crumbling, as most of us have either not been aware of it, or don’t think it is very important. A lion is a lion is a lion, right? No. Are Siberian, Amur, Javan, and Bengal tigers just tigers? Is a western African forest elephant just an elephant or maybe a very different species from a savanna elephant?


Western Africa holds biodiversity treasures we are not aware of. So do we make an effort or accept that a lion is a lion is a lion?


Posted by Pieter Kat at 21:18

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