Aslan, the "Great Lion," is a central character as the Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, the classic series of children's novels written by the great C.S. Lewis. Lewis and the directors of the Narnia films were not the first, nor will they be the last, to represent African lions in popular culture. So many of us have long admired the majesty and power of these big cats, and they have long served as icons of African wilderness and wildlife.
With so much appreciation for these creatures, you'd expect that we'd do everything we could to conserve and protect them in the wild. That's the impulse that so many of us have, but it's not universal.
There are people who poison lions for predator control purposes. And while that poisoning is appalling and unacceptable, it's even more infuriating that trophy hunters, mainly Americans, travel to Africa to kill these majestic animals and then bring home their heads, hides, and other body parts.
For decades, the African lion population has been in a steady and dangerous decline. It has been nearly cut in half over the past 30 years. Lion habitat and prey species have diminished, forcing lions to retreat from much of their historic range. Although lions continue to live in 27 countries, many are in groups too small and isolated from other populations to survive.
During this period, the United States has emerged as the clear leader in importing trophies from sport-hunted lions. The number of lion trophies imported to the United States doubled from 1999 to 2008 (the latest year that statistics are available) -- with parts of at least 3,600 wild African lions imported to our country. This additional pressure -- especially destructive for a social species, with tight family networks -- is the last thing that lions need, especially with all of the threats they face. Some estimates put total lion numbers throughout Africa at just 23,000 -- more than the number of tigers in the wild, but clearly in the danger zone for survival of the species.
Today, The HSUS and our international arm, Humane Society International, as well as several other organizations, petitioned the United States Department of the Interior to list the African lion as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Listing the African lion as endangered would significantly benefit this iconic animal by prohibiting the importation of African lion trophies into the United States, unless it serves a demonstrable conservation purpose.
The Department has 90 days to decide if it will move forward with our petition. Please take a moment today to sign onto a letter of support that we will send to the Department once it opens a public comment period.
It's not too late to save the magnificent African lion, but we must act now. And that's exactly what we did by filing this petition today.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.
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