Two subspecies of lion are being added to the endangered species list, officials from International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society International say.
The decision is being made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add two types of lion located in India and western and central Africa to the endangered species list. The move comes after renewed pressure to ban the hunting of lions, after the highly publicised death of Cecil the lion at the hands of an American hunter.
Jeff Flocken, the North American regional director of the animal welfare fund, said: “This is going to be a very exciting announcement for those who want to see greater protection for lions and although the decision is not the direct result of Cecil’s death, but rather new data … it would be impossible to ignore the public outcry and its effect on worldwide opinion.”
Under the rules of the Endangered Species Act, lions will not be protected from hunting, but hunters will have to obtain an import license from the Fish and Wildlife Service to bring back trophies. To acquire permission a hunter will have to demonstrate that hunting will enhance the survival of the species. Teresa Telecky, the director of wildlife at the Humane Society International has said: “This is a very high bar”. It’s hoped that this will discourage hunters from travelling to Africa to hunt the beautiful cats.
Lion populations in the north, west and central plains of Africa will be listed as endangered, while the eastern and southern populations will be listed as threatened.
Telecky said: “Regardless of endangered or threatened, anywhere [lions] exist, after tomorrow, the hunter will have to get an import permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife,”
The decision is believed to be based on a study released this summer by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which indicated that fewer than 30,000 lions in Africa are still in existence and perhaps as few as 20,000. According to the report, the lion population has declined 60 per cent in the last two decades, and the animals now exist in only 8 percent of their historic habitats.
The decline’s being blamed on loss of habitat and prey, but also poorly regulated trophy hunting is one of the biggest threats mentioned in the assesment. Telecky said. “Another huge and emerging threat: the trade in lion bones to Asia, where they’re used in traditional Asian medicine.”
Unfortunately the lion is the last big cat to join tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and cougars on the endangered species list.
The new regulation will not prevent the hunting of lions, if the host country allows it, but trophies such as skins and heads cannot be imported into the United States without the required permit.
Lions remain one of the most coveted animals of big game trophy hunters, and Americans represent the largest number of trophy takers. In the past 10 years, Telecky said, parts of 5,647 lions were imported into the United States.