Responding to a petition submitted by IFAW and a coalition of animal welfare groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced its proposed rule to list African lions as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
This decision is a victory for lions--until now, the species have been the only great cat not protected under the Act.
African lion populations have decreased by more than half in the last 30 years, with potentially fewer than 32,000 left in the wild. Given the drastic declines, we forced the agency to consider how trophy hunting is contributing to the deteriorating population numbers.
The Endangered Species Act has no authority to stop African lions from being hunted abroad (that's up to the regional African governments), but it can regulate how their trophies and parts are imported and move throughout the United States.
We were pleased today to see that along with the proposed listing decision, USFWS recommended a special rule that would create a new permitting system to monitor and control Americans importing lion trophies and parts--a protection entirely missing up until now.
If the rule is implemented as proposed, lion imports will be limited to hunters transporting trophies from origin countries with a scientifically sound management plan for the species.
This is significant as the U.S. is responsible for importing more than half of all lion trophies brought home by hunters each year. Of course this is not the same as the government banning lion imports altogether--it does, to some extent, leave the species vulnerable to sport-hunting by vainglorious Americans--but it is commendable, and will hopefully prove effective.
We remain optimistic that trophy hunting will eventually rank lowest on the list of the many threats lions face (which also include the bone trade, killing as retaliation for human-wildlife conflict and lost of prey base and habitat).
Today's proposed decision is a good first step in recognizing the dire situation of the African lion.
Renowned wildlife expert, Dr. Jane Goodall, IFAW Honorary Board Member, Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace, agrees,
"I want to congratulate the US government for proposing to list African lions as Threatened on the US Endangered Species listing. This is excellent news. African lions have been decreasing in numbers steadily over the past years, yet most people were unaware because of the ease of seeing prides in national Parks and Reserves. I hope that the proposed listing will be approved - how terrible to lose the 'King of Beasts' from the African scene."
Up until today, trophy hunting has been one of the contributors to the decline of this iconic species. We thank the U.S. government for acknowledging that the African lion is in trouble. Stay tuned to learn how you can support these new regulations and give the king of the jungle the royal and respected treatment it so rightly deserves.
Jeff Flocken is the North American Regional Director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Visit www.ifaw.org to learn about the organization's work to save African lions.