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Researchers Question their Theory about South Africa’s Growing Lion Population

The assumption has long been that adding lions to the top of the food chain would lead to healthier populations of these other carnivore species, and that any efforts to protect large predators, such as lions, automatically benefit smaller ones, too. However, scientists lack evidence about whether these predictions play out in the real world, especially in small reserves of the sort found in South Africa. A study published on Wednesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that the dynamics are more intricate than previously thought. While the presence of lions slightly increases the number of small carnivore species living in an area, it decreases their overall range. Many wildlife reserves in South Africa are former livestock farms that have been converted for ecotourism. If lions are present, they have usually been reintroduced. Across reserves, the researchers recorded 22 small carnivore species, from side-striped jackals and banded mongooses to bat-eared foxes. They found that overall species counts were slightly higher in reserves with lions, but that, on average, lions reduced the amount of land that small carnivores are found on by roughly 30 percent.