Ask a classroom full of kids, anywhere in the United States, what their favorite animal is and odds are someone will mention the African lion — the so-called “King of the Beasts.” Unfortunately for these children, by the time they are adults, this iconic predator may be gone from all but a handful of wild places — that is, unless something bold and lasting is done to protect them.
We’ve called on the appropriate authorities to take specific actions to mitigate the most serious threats to lions. And there’s movement. On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the first step to protecting African lions by announcing its finding that the African lion may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, based on a legal petition submitted by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, The Fund for Animals and other animal protection organizations. This is just the start of the process in getting the species protected, but it’s a necessary step.
The ESA requires that the agency rely upon sound science, and there’s no question, based on the evidence, that African lions are endangered. There are five factors to be considered by the agency, including loss of habitat and range, as well as prey; over-utilization for commercial and recreational purposes; disease; inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms; and other factors including retaliatory killing by livestock herders.
The number of African lions has declined by more than 50 percent in the past three decades, with fewer than 40,000—and possibly as few as 23,000—believed remaining today. Despite the significant and continued declines in population and range, the number of lion trophies imported to the United States is increasing. The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of African lion parts, as hunting trophies and for commercial purposes. Between 1999 and 2008, 7,090 lion parts, reported as being from a wild source, were traded internationally for recreational trophy hunting purposes, representing a minimum of 5,663 lions. Most of these parts were imported into the U.S.: 4,139 parts (58 percent of the total), representing a minimum of 3,600 lions (64 percent of the total). Safari Club International, the world’s most notorious trophy hunting organization, is driving the killing, and it will fight the efforts we are making to protect the species.
Listing the African lion as “endangered” would generally prohibit the import of lion trophies into the U.S., an essential step to reversing the current decline of the population. But our efforts don’t stop at the legal and policy end. Humane Society International has been actively involved in field efforts to protect lions on the ground in both Kenya and Tanzania, through preventing human-lion conflict and subsequent retaliatory killings of lions. This marriage of policy and ‘boots on the ground’ action is essential for the African lion’s long-term survival. Find more information on our field efforts, and please sign a letter of support for our petition.
It wasn’t long ago that trophy hunters pursued Siberian and Bengal tigers. Now, it’s forbidden, and for the vast majority of us, it’s unthinkable to allow people to shoot these rare animals for trophies. We should exhibit the same thinking — and adopt the same policies – when it comes to African lions.