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Researchers have suggested that climate change may explain the declining lion population in Tanzania's Ngorongoro crater. The crater's lions have been repeatedly hit by disease outbreaks since studies on them began in the 1960s. There have since been four big lion die-offs, all associated with floods or drought — conditions that have been increasingly frequent in the past ten years.

The scientists say that canine distemper virus (CDV) is the main cause of the decline in lion numbers, and see a link between the local climate and the disease outbreaks. The 2001 CDV outbreak, for instance, followed a drought in 2000. The researchers suggest that the area's increasing human population might also be to blame, as domestic dogs can carry CDV.

The 260 sq km crater is big enough and has enough prey animals to sustain 120 lions, but numbers rarely rose above 60 in the 1990s and fell to just 29 in 1998.

Link to full news story on BBC Online

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