Talk in the United States and in other countries has focused on what the recent winner of the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history will do with the money.  How about save Africa’s lions?

New research suggests that to save Africa’s iconic wildlife private investment may be the answer.

During the last 20 years, the lion population in Africa has declined by more than 40 percent, according to a recent article in The New York Times. Most of the 20,000 surviving lions live in protected areas that face encroachment from poachers, livestock, illegal logging and more.

Research by Peter Lindsey, director of Wildlife Conservation Network’s lion recovery fund, and Jennifer Miller, suggests the state of the lion population throughout Africa is a bellwether of the health of national parks and other “protected” areas and the animals they support.  Wildlife conservation Network is a member of Aid for Africa.  The research was undertaken through Aid for Africa member Panthera.

Wildlife tourism provides jobs, economic growth and rural development throughout Africa.

Most national parks and protected areas throughout Africa are vastly underfunded and face shortfalls of at least $1 billion, according to the research. Some 90 percent of 300 parks in Africa are short of funds. Most operate with budgets of only 20 percent of what is needed.

And what is needed is between $1.2 and $2.4 billion a year.

The research suggests that without a new approach to funding protected areas, the parks will continue to deteriorate to the detriment of wildlife and, ultimately, the welfare of humans who depend on the parks. Wildlife tourism provides jobs, economic growth and rural development throughout Africa.

Most African governments know this and allocate more lands for protection than the global average, according to the article. But it is not enough.

Lindsey and others suggest that a reallocation of development funds by international agencies and a commitment by a few wealthy donors—perhaps a few lottery winners?– could make all the difference.

Wildlife Conservation Network supports on-the-ground programs to save endangered elephants, cheetah, lions, painted dogs and other African wildlife and their habitats. We work to engage local people as effective wildlife stewards so that people and animals can coexist and thrive.

Panthera is dedicated to conserving the world’s 40 wild cat species–including the African lion, cheetah and leopard–and their ecosystems. We strive to ensure a future for wild cats through effective global strategies led by the world’s premier cat biologists.