In the savannah of Alatash National Park, the lion sleeps tonight.
This remote part of north-west Ethiopia was considered a possible habitat for lions, but it is seldom visited by people.
Now an expedition by the University of Oxford’s Conservation Research Unit has discovered that lions are indeed alive and well in the park – a rare extension of their known range.
“During my professional career I have had to revise the lion distribution map many times,” says Hans Bauer, who led the expedition. “I have deleted one population after the other. This is the first and probably the last time that I’m putting a new one up there.”
To spot the lions, Bauer and his team set up camera traps on a dry river bed.
“While I was walking to find some trees to put the camera on, I already saw some footprints,” says Bauer. “That was the eureka moment when I was sure that there really are lions.”
Then it was a case of catching them on film, and on the second night, the lions obliged.
Alatash is adjacent to a much larger national park in Sudan, Dinder National Park. Bauer believes it’s likely there are lions there as well, with perhaps 100 to 200 individuals in the two parks combined.
About 20,000 lions are left in the wild across Africa. Lion populations in west and central Africa are declining, and may halve in 20 years.
Bauer thinks the lions of Alatash face fewer threats than many populations.
“The situation is fairly positive,” he says. “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.”
Read more: Last of the lions