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Lions 'near extinction in Africa'

Each lion kills livestock worth an average $320 a year.
Each lion kills livestock worth an average $320 a year.

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LONDON, England -- The lion is close to extinction in Africa, a wildlife expert has warned after numbers fell by 90 percent during the last 20 years.

Only 23,000 are left compared to an estimated 200,000 in the early 1980s as a result of hunters killing them to protect livestock, said Laurence Frank, a wildlife biologist from the University of California.

Interviewed in New Scientist magazine, published on Thursday, Frank said: "It's not just lions. Populations of all African predators are plummeting."

The wild dog population has fallen to between 3,500 and 5,000 and fewer than 15,000 cheetahs now roam the continent.

"People know about elephants, gorillas and rhinos, but they seem blissfully unaware that these large carnivores are nearing the brink," the Press Association quoted him as saying.

Frank said the fall was due to people killing them to protect livestock. "People have always killed predators," he said.

"But there's only so much damage you can do with spears and shields. Now everyone has got rifles and poisons."

His study of the Laikipia region of Kenya convinced him that predators and farmers can co-exist peacefully.

Better fences and dogs to raise the alarm when predators approach could cut attacks. But with each lion killing livestock worth on average $320 a year -- equivalent to one cow or three sheep -- "bullets and poison are always cheaper than good husbandry."

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