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Are lions facing their biggest threat yet

Almost 200,000 lions roamed Africa one century ago, but recent studies show that the species is extinct in 26 countries across the continent and occupies a fraction of its historical rangeland. With lion populations plummeting by a staggering 43 percent in just the last two decades, the King of the Jungle is now a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.

Lions are facing an indirect threat from climate change called co-infection. Lions periodically face outbreaks of the disease distemper, and usually weather them with little mortality as well as major issues with TB. However, distemper outbreaks in 1994 and 2001 caused massive die-offs. Researchers found that the key environmental factor in the 1994 and 2001 epidemics was the occurrence of a severe drought.

 

One result of this drought was that both the lions’ prey, weakened with malnutrition, became heavily infested with ticks, which in turn infested the lions as they fed. The ticks, it turned out, carried a blood parasite that rendered the less able to cope with canine distemper virus, and the combination of the two diseases killed many more lions than either disease commonly would acting on its own. Droughts such as the ones that led to deadly co-infection in lions are predicted to become more commonplace as the climate warms.

Lions are also facing many human threats such as population growth and agricultural expansion resulting in loss of natural habitat, as well as hunting, poisoning and poaching by livestock ranchers.

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