'Lost lion' species found in Ethiopia, Sudan

Feb 02, 2016, 4:08 PM EST
Source: Tambako The Jaguar
Source: Tambako The Jaguar

Researchers and wildlife conservationists have mulled for years over the possibility of lions existing in relatively unexplored parts of Ethiopia and Sudan. A report released on Monday says that scientists have found a previously undiscovered species of lion in the Alatash National Park in northwest Ethiopia, on the Ethiopia-Sudan border. There they captured images of lions and tracked the cats. National Geographic reports:

The scientists concluded that lions likely also live in the larger, adjacent Dinder National Park across the border in Sudan. The International Union for Conservation of Nature had previously considered the area a "possible range" for the species, and local people had reported seeing lions in the area, but no one had presented definitive evidence.    
"It's great to have confirmation of this suspected population, especially since we don't have a lot of information on this area," says Luke Dollar, a big cat biologist and National Geographic explorer with the Big Cats Initiative, who was not involved in the study.
Following an exploratory expedition, wildlife conservationists from Oxford University in England were able to confirm anecdotal stories from park staff and locals of lions living in the Alatash National Park in North West Ethiopia, close to the Sudan border.
"Lions are definitely present in Alatash National Park and in Dinder National Park. Lion presence in Alatash has not previously been confirmed in meetings at national or international level," said Hans Bauer, leader of the expedition.
"Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder."
Bauer estimates between 100 and 200 lions could live in the national park after considering factors like habitat, terrain and availability of prey animals.
Lions are currently in danger. In fact, Africa's lion population has declined from up to 500,000 early in the 1900s to less than 200,000 by the middle of the century down to as few as 20,000 in the wild today, according to the New York Times. This means that finding a new population of lions is good news, though conservation efforts for the species are still sorely needed.
"The confirmation that lions persist in this area is exciting news," said Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation, in an interview with National Geographic. "Now that the expedition is complete, the next step is to communicate with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and look at the needs for conservation in the area so that this previously undiscovered lion stronghold can be protected."