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Large mammals vanishing from African national parks

Lions, giraffes, zebras, and wildebeest are among the species whose numbers have plummeted on average by nearly 60 percent in protected areas in Africa.

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A lion hangs out on a dirt road in a private game reserve bordering Kruger National Park. Research shows that the population of large mammals in protected areas across Africa is down almost 60 percent since 1970.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

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Many of Africa's most iconic animals are disappearing from national parks at an alarming rate, according to a new study by British researchers.

Lions, giraffes, zebras and wildebeest are among the 69 species whose numbers have plummeted, on average, by nearly 60 percent in protected areas across the continent, the study shows.

The researchers examined population changes of large mammal species in 78 protected areas across Africa by looking at animal census data taken in the parks from 1970 until 2005.

Changes varied across the continent; West Africa has been hit hardest, with some large mammal populations down by as much as 85 percent.

"The thing that surprised me the most was the size of the problem in terms of how many parks this has affected," said study leader Ian Craigie of the Zoological Society of London. "It's not just one or two places."

Craigie said the stark drop in Africa's western countries can probably be chalked up to scarce resources and human interference.

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