Everybody knows the haunting tune and those words: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.” The song is a reminder of the power of wilderness and of the awe it can make us feel even across oceans and at the other end of the earth. What West Africa’s lions are facing today, though, is the Big Sleep—that is, extinction.
Researchers who spent six years scouring protected areas in the 11 West African nations where lions were once at home found evidence of fewer than 250 surviving adult lions. Think of it this way: That’s smaller than the high school student body in my small town in New England, distributed across an area longer than the distance from Portland, Maine, to Jacksonville, Fla.
It’s not just West Africa: Lion populations are in dramatic decline across the continent. In Kenya, where they are the symbol of national strength…
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