Formerly widespread across northern Nigeria today the lion Panthera leo survives in only two sites in the country: Kainji Lake National Park and Yankari Game Reserve. This decline is linked to severe depletion of their natural prey base, wild ungulates, due to hunting. Faced with little option but to prey upon domestic livestock, the increase in human-lion conflict inevitably results in their direct persecution – typically by poisoning livestock carcasses.
Human population growth and agricultural expansion is causing an unprecedented influx of nomadic livestock into protected areas as alternative grazing reserves disappear. During aerial censuses of Yankari in 2006 and 2011 cattle were by far the most abundant species recorded. It is estimated that fewer than 50 individuals survive in total and without concerted action lions will continue to decline and may in time disappear from Nigeria completely.
Lions are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. However lion populations in West Africa are particularly small and fragmented and have been recently classified as Regionally Endangered. Recent genetic studies have highlighted the difference between lions in West and Central Africa from those in southern and East Africa, suggesting that lions in West and Central Africa may merit distinct taxonomic status.