Starting today, the United States will not allow the import of captive-bred lion trophies from South Africa – the world’s leading lion trophy hunting nation by a long shot (600 of the 700 lion trophies that come into the United States each year are from South Africa). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced this policy today and it comes in the wake of the listing of the African lion as threatened and endangered across its range, which I announced last year (The HSUS and Humane Society International led that legal effort). This is the right kind of blow to this grotesque industry that is driven largely by the participation of American trophy hunters.
Canned lion trophy hunting is a disgraceful, tawdry replica of the already unethical practice of hunting wild lions for their heads. In fenced areas, trophy hunters corner lions or are led around by the nose by “guides.” They participate in a guaranteed kill, for bragging rights and to secure a higher position in the pantheon of their fraternity. There are an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 captive bred lions being held in canned lion hunting facilities in South Africa. In 2014, the most recent year for which international trade data are available, trophy hunters killed 999 captive bred lions in South Africa, with 664, or 66 percent, slain by Americans.
Today’s announcement is the latest in a series of steps taken by the U.S. government over recent years to address the deteriorating conservation status of wild lion populations that have declined by 60 percent across much of Africa over the last 20 years. There are now only around 20,000 lions remaining in the wild.
In response to a legal petition filed in March 2011 by The HSUS, HSI, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free, and other non-governmental organizations to list the African lion as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the United States listed lion populations in West, Central, and Northern Africa as endangered and the rest of the lion populations in Africa as threatened, in December 2015. When the listing became effective, on January 22nd this year, it meant that, for the first time, the United States must regulate the import of lion trophies into the country.
The U.S. has punted on a final decision about imports of wild lion hunting trophies from South Africa as well as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia, among other countries. We urge the Fish and Wildlife Service to shut the door on these trophy kills, too. We can take the lead from some African countries turning away from this ugly sport and choosing non-consumptive tourism, such as photographic safaris, as the future for their economic growth. Kenya prohibited trophy hunting in 1977 and Botswana prohibited trophy hunting in 2014, and both countries have seen growth in tourism as a result. These two nations should serve as an example for the rest of the region and the United States should look to them as the model management programs for lions. It’s time to entirely end the era of international transport of lion trophies.