A Reliable Way to Survey Lions

May 29, 2020

To effectively manage wildlife populations, it's essential to reliably estimate their abundance. For tigers and jaguars, we count them by taking lots of camera trap photos and identifying individuals through their stripe or spot patterns.

The challenge in surveying lions has always been that they mostly lack useful markings to make an ID. That has left scientists to use less reliable methods that tend to have limited use for monitoring population trends over time.

But a study just released on work in Kenya, co-authored by WCS, offers a new way forward. The team covered 1,600 miles over 21 days and made 56 sightings of 16 lions. Essentially, the researchers acted as a massive, mobile camera trap survey, identifying individuals by whisker spots in concert with other natural features such as scars, ear notches, and tooth wear.

It's the first peer-reviewed paper resulting from Kenya's national lion survey and it establishes a rigorous standard for surveying lion populations at the national level—key for effective management.

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