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Lions: Nearly 200 in Previously Unknown Group Caught On Camera In Ethiopia

Feb 01, 2016 02:39 PM EST

A hidden population of nearly 200 lions was recently found in a remote northwestern region of Ethiopia. Wildlife researchers from Born Free Foundation said the lions were spotted using camera traps set up in the Alatash national park on Ethiopia's border with Sudan.

"The confirmation that lions persist in this area is exciting news," Born Free Foundation said in a statement. "With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important."

Alatash is adjacent to a much larger national park in Sudan, Dinder National Park. Hans Bauer, a lion conservationist from the University of Oxford's Conservation Research Unit who led the tracking expedition, said there could be up to 200 lions in the park - which is a rather rare extension of their known range.

"Considering the relative ease with which lion signs were observed, it is likely that they are resident throughout Alatash and Dinder," he said. "On a total surface area of about 10,000 square kilometers, this would mean a population of 100-200 lions for the entire ecosystem, of which 27-54 would be in Alatash."

In recent years, lions have disappeared from much of Ethiopia, and only about 20,000 lions are left in the wild across Africa. In fact, researchers estimate that west and central Africa populations may even be cut in half within the next 20 years.  As a result, lions have been listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "red list" of threatened species.

However, Bauer believes the Alatash lions may face fewer threats than many other African populations.

"The situation is fairly positive," he added. "I think the fact that the Ethiopian government recently made it a national park is a giant leap forward. Now we have to support them in improving park management, but I think they're taking it very seriously."

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