Recently, embattled African lions took one step closer to receiving much-needed protections from American trophy hunters still eager to kill them despite their dwindling numbers in the wild. By declaring that the species may warrant a U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing, the Department of the Interior has acknowledged that the scientific and technical petition filed in March 2011 by IFAW and a coalition of animal welfare groups has sufficiently demonstrated that lions are in trouble.
While this announcement clears a critical hurdle in the ESA listing process, of even greater importance is the fact that it officially opens the door for everyone who loves big cats to take action and help make these vital protections a reality.
Starting today, the U.S. government will allow for the public to submit comments on whether or not the species should be listed. The importance of public involvement during this part of the process cannot be overstated. Recent articles in Science and the New York Times attest to the influence the public can have, and the important role we all play, in an ESA listing decision.
The horrifying statistics on the continuing fall of this majestic species speak volumes about the need for protection under the ESA. Over the past three decades, the number of African lions has fallen by more than 53 percent, with fewer than 35,000 believed remaining today in just a handful of countries. And perhaps even more shocking is America's role in this decline, with more than 60 percent of all lion sport hunted trophies and lion parts exported from Africa being imported into the U.S. -- a market that would be virtually eliminated with a U.S. ban on trade in lions that would accompany a successful Endangered listing.
An outpouring of hundreds of thousands of public comments in support of this listing will go a long way in ultimately ensuring that lions receive the protections they need. As a matter of fact, African lions are currently the only great cat not receiving protections from trade under the ESA. And there is no shortage of Americans who think African lions warrant greater protection: A Synovate eNation poll from 2011 found that 89.8 percent of Americans support the U.S. government in taking actions to prevent trophy hunting of African lions endangered with extinction, and 83.4 percent believe that the U.S. government should support international efforts to end the commercial trade of lion products.
Please visit www.helpafricanlions.org to show your courage for lions and submit a public comment. Also, please help spread the word on Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks. With just a few keystrokes, you can have a real impact in determining the future of these incredible creatures. It is time that we answer the roar of the lion, not by needlessly adding to its threats in the wild, but by giving it the opportunity to continue roaming the African plains.
Jeff Flocken is the DC Office Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). A version of this post also appeared on www.ifaw.org.