West African lions are close to extinction, and vulnerable populations could be wiped out in the next five to 10 years, according to new research led by the wild cat conservation group Panthera. West African lions, which are genetically distinct from other African lions, once numbered in the tens of thousands. Now the
population has been reduced to around 400 individuals spread across 17 countries, largely due to habitat loss, a shortage of prey, and poaching, according to the study published in PLOS ONE. Of the remaining lions, only about 250 are mature enough to reproduce, but in many cases those individuals are spread too far apart to breed. West African lions are now present in only 1.1 percent of their original habitat and should be considered “critically endangered,” according to the study. Running low on habitat and prey, the lions sometimes kill livestock. Villagers then kill the lions in revenge. “It’s become very complicated for this carnivore at the top of the food chain to find enough space and food to survive,” one scientist told Reuters.