And research institutions have similarly neglected the region.
"Like wildlife tourists, most international research institutions and conservation organizations active in Africa also flock to the iconic game parks in East and southern Africa, meaning that lions faced a silent demise in West Africa over the past decades," Henschel told LiveScience.
Massive Survey To remedy that, Henschel and his colleagues recently completed a massive, six-year survey of West Africa's lions, using remote cameras, interviews with people and counts of lion tracks. The survey, carried out between October 2006 and May 2012, builds on a smaller study done last year, which found shrinking savannas for lions in the region.
About 400 adult and juvenile lions existed in the region. And the wild cats, which were originally thought to have inhabited 21 separate regions, actually exist in just four. Their range is now confined to pockets in Senegal, Nigeria and the borderlands between Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso.
These isolated populations are also threatened due to reduced genetic variation.