Historical status

Historically, the modern lion was distributed throughout the Mediterranean, the Near & Middle East as far as India, and all of Africa.  They were eliminated from their last European strongholds in Greece by 100 A.D. but survived until the 12th century in Palestine and the 20th century in Syria, Iran and Iraq [9]. The last reliable sighting of lion in Iran was in 1941 [10]. 

The Asiatic lion subspecies now only exists as a population of around 400 in and around the Gir Forest of north western India [11].

In Africa, lions were extinct in Tunisia in 1891 and in Algeria in 1893. The last “Barbary lion” of northern Africa was shot in 1920 although they may have survived in the High Atlas Mountains until the 1940s.  The last wild “Cape lion” of South Africa was shot in 1850 [6].

Reduced numbers of lions are still present north of South Africa and Namibia and south of the equator.  North of the equator they are found in a narrow belt south of the Sahara desert on the western side and extending further south to link with the southern hemisphere population on the eastern side of the continent.

Myers (1975) [7] wrote, "Since 1950, [lion] numbers may well have been cut in half, perhaps to as low as 200,000 in all or even less". Later, Myers (1984) [8] wrote, "In light of evidence from all the main countries of its range, the lion has been undergoing decline in both range and numbers, often an accelerating decline, during the past two decades". In the early 1990s, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group members made educated "guesstimates" of 30,000 to 100,000 for the African lion population [6].