Lions decimated by “feline AIDS” – 04/02/2004

  • September 30, 2013 at 6:41 pm #425

    Danny Buttler
    environment reporter

    THE King of the Beasts may soon abdicate his throne.

    Africa’s famed lions are nearing the point of no return, with some
    experts estimating there are as few as 10,000 of the peak predators
    left in the wild.

    While the population is adequate to maintain the species, the rate of
    decline worries scientists.

    An estimated 250,000 lions were roaming the savannah just 20 years
    ago, but their human neighbour’s insatiable appetite for land has
    forced the species into a rapid downward spiral.

    Lions are not the only threatened carnivores: leopards, cheetahs,
    hyenas and African hunting dogs also face unprecedented pressure.

    The World Wildlife Fund has been fighting to reverse the decline, but
    recognises the conflict with Africans is not easily resolved.

    “It’s hard to blame people who are living on the knife edge . . . if
    your cattle or goats are subject to predation by lions a lot of
    people would eliminate them and that’s what tends to happen,” WWF
    Australia chief executive officer David Butcher said.

    Having survived thousands of years of hunting with spears and even
    guns, it appears a few drops of lethal poison could spell the death
    knell for the remaining prides of the once proud carnivores.

    While famed for their spectacular group kills, lions will just as
    happily feast from a carcass — allowing desperate farmers to easily
    dispose of their greatest competitors.

    “Certain types of poisons can eliminate whole prides of lions,” Mr
    Butcher said. “It’s easy to poison carcasses and that’s how most of
    them are eliminated.”

    A feline version of the human AIDS virus, the lion lentivirus or
    feline immunodeficiency virus, has also decimated lion numbers in

    Like AIDS in humans, the virus weakens the immune system of the
    animal so they are more likely to die from other diseases and
    infections that they would otherwise resist.

    It is transmitted through bite wounds during fights, suckling and
    mating. The diseased animals waste away — often leaving orphaned
    cubs behind who also suffer the disease.

    “It is hard not to see the parallels between a human AIDS victim
    wasting away and what we are seeing here,” said researcher Kate
    Nicholls, who has been working for the Okavango Lion Conservation
    Project in Botswana for the past six years.

    The lion lentivirus was first identified in Africa more than 10 years
    ago, but its full impact has become apparent in the past few years.

    US scientist Laurence Frank has been studying carnivore behaviour in
    Kenya for many years and is becoming increasingly anxious about the
    future of the species.

    While his population estimate is more optimistic than the WWF’s — he

    believes about 23,000 wild lions still roam the continent — he fears
    current conservation attempts are simply not working.

    Mr Frank said Africa’s nature reserves are often sanctuaries in name

    “Fully half of those (remaining) lions are in six large protected
    areas, three of which are in Tanzania,” he said.

    “If those were to be overrun by people, as has happened to so many
    African parks, we could lose lions very quickly.”

    Desperate times require desperate measures, according to Mr Franks,
    who advocates a return to big-game hunting as one antidote to the
    looming tragedy.

    “Wildlife needs to have positive financial value to those who live
    with it; in most cases this will mean paid trophy hunting,” he said.

    “Sport hunting has become huge business in southern Africa . . . with
    the result that wildlife increased enormously.

    “All sorts of people will pay up to $37,500 to shoot a male lion —
    that would pay for a hell of a lot of dead cows.”

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