Today, we are joining with allies to demand that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibit the import of any lion trophies from South Africa. Our demand comes in the wake of news from South Africa indicating that Skye, a male lion who was considered a pride leader, has apparently been killed by an American trophy hunter.
In a letter sent to the agency today, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and the Center for Biological Diversity say the lion was killed “under dubious circumstances that should prohibit the issuance of any permit for the importation of the lion or its parts.”
Americans are still outraged by the killing of Cecil the lion by an American hunter three years ago. The killing of yet another lion considered a “high value pride male” because of his genealogy, his position as a pride leader and his appeal to tourists and others, puts a species that is already threatened with extinction at even greater risk. Such trophy hunting is simply not sustainable, and we need the agency tasked with protecting endangered and threatened species to send a clear message to trophy hunters that it will not be tolerated.
There are serious questions surrounding this hunt and its legality. Skye’s territory encompassed Kruger National Park, a popular destination for tourists where hunting is prohibited, and a park with large open private reserves along its eastern boundary. For this hunt, it appears that the lion was baited in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, where hunting is sanctioned. It is not clear whether the Umbabat reserve has a science-based management plan for lions, and why the local agency in charge of issuing hunting permits authorized this hunt despite the fact that Kruger did not reportedly sanction hunts in this section.
The removal of pride leaders like Skye has cascading negative impacts on lion populations. Among other effects, it creates instability in the pride and can lead to other males killing his cubs. It has been reported that one of Skye’s cubs was found dead days after Skye went missing.
Scientists agree that hunting male lions in their prime is unsustainable and it is for this reason that U.S. Endangered Species Act regulations require strict scientific scrutiny of lion population management plans before any lion trophies can be imported into the United States.
But the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to enforce its own regulations. In fact, just months after listing lions as a threatened species, the agency announced it would allow the import of lion trophies from South Africa, and even failed to properly crack down on the import of lions shot in captive hunting facilities in South Africa. The agency has also authorized the import of lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, although there is no evidence that lion hunting in those countries is sustainable. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International have sued the agency over its findings that Zimbabwe properly manages lion and elephant hunting, a decision made in the midst of a coup in that country.
Hundreds of lions are killed by trophy hunters each year, and the loss of even a single animal deals a blow to this species because there are only approximately 20,000 lions remaining in the wild. But the killing of male lions who are collared for research purposes, such as Cecil, and who are known to draw substantial tourist revenue, is particularly deserving of scorn. Like Cecil and Skye, another iconic male lion named Kakori, also from Hwange National Park where Cecil was killed, was shot earlier this month. While this hunt was reportedly allowed under Zimbabwean law, at the very least it highlights the serious unethical nature of the hunting guides who are operating in the region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency is mandated to ensure that trophies coming into this country are not acquired illegally or imported in violation of the Endangered Species Act. With our letter today, we are putting the agency on notice to make sure that this latest trophy of the lion believed to be Skye does not land in this country whose laws and citizens do not tolerate such unnecessary killing.