February 2, 2006

Study urges action on threatened Africa predators

By Ed Stoddard

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A new study of Africa's most
endangered carnivores has called for urgent action to save
beasts such as the lion, cheetah and Ethiopian wolf from major
threats to survival such as hunting and conflict with humans.

Scientists say predators play key ecological roles at the
top of the food chain and their presence or absence can say a
lot about a habitat's health. But they are in frequent conflict
with humans, preying on livestock and sometimes people.

The study, conducted by scientists for the New York based
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), says Ethiopia's wolf, the
African wild dog, the lion and the cheetah are the most
endangered predators in Africa.

"Ethiopian wolves ... have vanished from an astonishing 98
percent of their range," the WCS said in a statement.

In the past few decades, lions have vanished from 82
percent of the land over which they used to roam, while the
elegant cheetah has disappeared from 75 percent of its habitat.

Wild dogs, pack animals detested by livestock farmers, are
no longer seen in almost 90 percent of their original

The WCS said all the most vulnerable animals "displayed
high degrees of range loss ... and low reproductive rates."

Habitat decline, hunting, road kills and conflict with
humans are among the key threats to Africa's carnivores.

But not all the continent's meat eaters are in trouble, and
some of the smaller and more resilient species seem to be
thriving alongside humanity, including the African civet and
several species of jackal.

"While these species also prey on livestock and poultry,
their adaptability to a variety of habitats makes them less
vulnerable to long-term population declines," the WCS said.

The civet and the side-striped jackal appear to have lost
none of their former range. Black-backed jackals can be heard
baying at the moon in the countryside just outside the
continent's financial hub, Johannesburg.

The report recommended focusing conservation action and
research on tackling the biggest threats to the animals'

"Africa is world famous for its variety of carnivore
species from lions to hyenas," said Dr. Luke Hunter, a
co-author of the report who also runs the WCS Global Carnivore

"These animals play a key role in the health of ecosystems,
and represent all that is wild about Africa," he said.