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Why Africa's lions are rapidly disappearing

Africa's lion population has dwindled to 32,000, a nearly 70 percent decline in the past 50 years, according to a new survey by Duke University.

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A lion cub sleeps at a nature reserve near Johannesburg, South Africa. A new study shows that Africa's lion population has shrunk to 32,000.

(AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

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The lions that roam Africa's savannahs have lost as much as 75 percent of their habitat in the last 50 years as humans overtake their land and the lion population dwindles, said a study released Tuesday.

Researchers at Duke University, including prominent conservationist Stuart Pimm, warn that the number of lions across the continent have dropped to as few as 32,000, with populations in West Africa under incredible pressure.

"Lion numbers have declined precipitously in the last century," the study, published Tuesday by the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, reads. "Given that many now live in small, isolated populations, this trend will continue. The situation in West Africa is particularly dire, with no large population remaining and lions now absent from many of the region's national parks."

Fifty years ago, nearly 100,000 lions roamed across the African continent. In recent years, however, an ever-growing human population has come into the savannah lands to settle and develop. That has both cut down the amount of land lions have to roam, as well as fragmented it, researchers said.

“The word savannah conjures up visions of vast open plains teeming with wildlife.  But the reality is that massive land-use change and deforestation, driven by rapid human population growth, has fragmented or degraded much of the original savannah.  Only 25 percent remains of an ecosystem that once was a third larger than the continental United States,” said  Pimm in a statement released by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

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