A newly discovered population of African lions has been found at a remote national park in Ethiopia, according to a press release jointly issued by the organization Born Free USA and the Born Free Foundation.

The discovery of up to 54 lions at Ethiopia’s Alatash National Park (also sometimes spelled Alatish) coincides with the 50th anniversary of the movie “Born Free,” which featured the real-life rescue of an orphaned lion cub in Kenya.

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“The confirmation that lions persist in this area is exciting news,” said Adam Roberts, CEO of the organization and foundation. “With lion numbers in steep decline across most of the African continent, the discovery of previously unconfirmed populations is hugely important — especially in Ethiopia, whose government is a significant conservation ally.”

He continued, “We need to do all we can to protect these animals and the ecosystem on which they depend, along with all the other remaining lions across Africa, so we can reverse the declines and secure their future.”

Camera trap images as well as lion tracks provided the evidence that dozens of lions are in Alatash, located in northwest Ethiopia on the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The researchers also believe that the lions are likely in Sudan’s Dinder National Park, which runs adjacent to Alatash.

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Anecdotal evidence previously suggested the lion’s presence, yet until the recent survey, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) only considered Alatash a “possible range” for the species. The IUCN lists African lions as being “vulnerable” on the organization’s Red List of Endangered Species.

African lion populations have been declining throughout most of their range over recent decades. Total numbers have plummeted up to 75 percent since 1980, so the new discovery is reason for hope that these big cats, which now only occupy 8 percent of their historic range across the continent, can make a comeback with strong conservation measures.

“Lions were thought to be locally extinct in Sudan, so the new findings are encouraging,” Roberts said. “Now that the expedition is complete, the next step is to communicate with the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and look at the needs for conservation in the area so that this previously undiscovered lion stronghold can be protected.”

Roberts and his colleagues also have announced a Year of the Lion initiative to further support protection of African lions.

The full report documenting the recent finds is available online.