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African lions may share same fate as extinct sabre-toothed tigers

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Washington D.C. [USA], May 11: African lion is the next big cat species to become extinct as they have lost most of their prey, according to a recent study.

The research shows that the wildlife that went extinct during the period, including the sabre-toothed cat, cave and American lions and the American cheetah, lost the greatest proportion of their prey. Big cats today face the same challenges and food shortages as their ancestors and without immediate action, the same fate could likely be inevitable.

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Led by scientists from the Universities of Sussex, Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Aarhus and Goteborg, the team assessed several Ice Age extinction factors and whether they could be applied to big cat species populations today.

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Using a new global database of felid diets called FelidDiet, the team uncovered the cause of extinction of several Ice Age giants. The findings show that if these animals were alive today, on average, just 25% of their preferred prey still remain in the natural world, with the majority now extinct, partly due to human interference. The team believe this devastating loss of prey species was a major contributing factor to the extinction of these animals.

Addressing the question of what impact similar prey declines in natural big cat ranges would have today, the research has revealed that only 39% of the African lion’s prey and 37% of the Sunda clouded leopard’s would remain.

The paper ends with a grave warning that if this prey loss trend continues all affected species will face ‘a high risk of extinction.’

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Chris Sandom, who conceived the study, said that the research clearly shows that if primary big cat prey continues to decline at such a rate then big cats, including lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah, are at risk.

Co-author Dawn Burnham added, “NIMBYISM has taken its toll on our own part of the world where today only the Eurasian lynx represents biggish cats in Western Europe, our calculations suggest there would have been at least three more large felids had the prey species survived to sustain them.”

The study is published in the journal Ecography.

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