Lions, in the group of wild big cat family in East Africa, have a bigger risk of extinction as a result of climate change, which favours the proliferation of some parasitic diseases.
The alarming message on the possible contribution to the lions’ extinction is in a report by a team of US and African of researchers who investigated the cause of the 1994 and 2001 massive death of lions in Tanzania.
Even though lions in Rwanda’s Akagera National Park are not among those in jeopardy, it still remains an issue for further investigation.
“As a scientist, I have to first investigate,” said Tony Mudakikwa, a veterinary officer in the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN).
However, Mudakikwa pointed out that despite climate changes like severe drought that periodically hit the area, no lion deaths has occurred in the park for the last two decades.
Analysing 30 years of data on lion populations and comparing it with precipitation records, the team established that climate changes favour the outbreak of various diseases, among which is the tick-borne disease, babesia.
The 1994 and 2001 outbreaks killed about a third of the lions in the Serengeti National Park, and about 40 percent in the Ngorongoro Crater.
They pointed out that convergence of several infectious agents are caused by environmental conditions that favour the parasites’ transmission and propagation.
The team of scientists further warned that similar interplay is likely to be occurring elsewhere and may worsen with similar climate change.
“With global warming, there is considerable concern that ecological patterns of disease will be altered, as has occurred with the recent high mortality epidemics in amphibians and corals,” they write in the open-access journal PLUS ONE.
They further noted that lions which feast on disease-weakened prey get infected. Their data illustrate how climate change extremes can promote a complex interplay between epidemics in isolation and co-infection results in catastrophic mortality.