Panthera, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to protecting the world's wild big cats, including an effort to increase West African lion populations
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Niokolo Koba National Park, Senegal. On the very last day of our expedition, we found a lone young skinny female lioness. She appeared to have become separated from her pride and was not able to hunt on her own. A closer look showed that she had a face full of porcupine quills which were preventing her from eating. We thought her chances of survival were very low. We knew we had to do something because, even though this was natural, here was a young female who could over her life make a significant contribution to the recovery of this critically endangered population. So, we decided to dart her and remove the quills from her mouth and face, disinfect her wounds and give her antibiotics. We then left her with a few days worth of meat to eat which will fatten her up. We probably saved her life. She was too small to fit with a GPS collar but we took genetics samples from her and hopefully some day we will find her again or even better yet will find her offspring! What an incredible way to finish the collaring expedition! Pictured here is Fall the park’s wildlife vet removing quills from her face.
Credit: Panthera

Global wild cat conservation organization Panthera and their partner, Senegal's Department of National Parks, are making a difference one lion at a time.

According to a May release from Panthera, the nonprofit and the Senegal parks department are working to place GPS collars on critically endangered West African lions in Niokolo Koba National Park (NKNP), and successfully collared six lions in 2021 and 2022.

The data being collected from the six collared animals will help "provide critical data for the protection of the species," according to the release. 

While recently working on this project, conservationists found a young, skinny lioness who had become separated from her pride and was unable to hunt on her own, the release explained. 

During the days the team tracked collared lions using VHF in order to collect data on their pride structure and investigated GPS clusters in order to collect data on lion kills and their prey selection. Pictured here is the lioness Flo with her sister in the background who we collared last year and now forms the largest of the parks prides
A lioness Flo pictured with her sister in the background who was collared last year.
| Credit: Panthera

When the research team took a closer look, they discovered the animal had a "face full of porcupine quills" that they suspect had prevented her from eating for "likely a month."

The team decided to tranquilize the wild animal, remove the quills from her mouth and face, disinfect the wounds, and administer antibiotics. 

"We probably saved her life. She was too small to fit with a GPS collar, but we took genetics samples from her, and hopefully, someday, we will find her again or, even better yet, will find her offspring," Dr. Philipp Henschel, Panthera's West and Central Africa regional director, said in a statement.

Panthera scientists and members of Senegal's Department of National Parks with an anesthetized and collared lion. Niokolo Koba National Park, Senegal. 2021.
Panthera scientists and members of Senegal's Department of National Parks with an anesthetized and collared lion in Niokolo Koba National Park, Senegal last year.
| Credit: Paul Funston/Panthera

Along with news of the impromptu rescue, Panthera's release also shared that the West African lion population in NKNP has more than doubled in the last decade. 

When the organization first visited the park in 2011 to assess the status of its West African lion population, the group found just 10-15 lions in the park, according to Henschel. Panthera estimates that about 40 lions live in the park now, after a decade of conservation efforts in partnership with local park authorities.

Across all of West Africa, the organization believes there are 250 West African lions left in the wild.