by Jamie Schmid
The African lion, a symbol of beauty and strength, is now slated to be extinct by 2050. As the iconic big cat of sub-Saharan Africa, the lion now requires protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In an October 27th, 2014 press release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially proposed listing the African Lion as threatened under the ESA. This means the lion might be joining its other big cat friends, the jaguar and the tiger, on the growing list of endangered species.
According to a 2012 study by Duke University, the African lion population in Africa has decreased from 100,000 in 1960 to only 32,000 today, representing a drop of almost two-thirds over the past 50 years. These figures have sparked a cry for action by many conservation organizations and most recently by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A recent press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed three main threats to the African lion: habitat loss, decline in prey and an increase in conflict with hunters. These factors turn into a vicious cycle, each aspect aggravating the next. As their habitat decreases, African lions increasingly venture into human territories to find sources of food. They end up eating the livestock of African villagers, and hunters kill the lions in retaliation.
Another threat to the lion population comes from international trade. Currently there is no law banning the import or sale of lions into the United States, meaning the U.S. presents an ideal market for sports hunters. According to Teresa Telecky, the director of the Humane Society’s International Wildlife Department, “American hunters import about 400 trophies of wild lions each year, so we hope the ESA protection will significantly curtail this destructive number.”
A coalition of wildlife organizations pushed for the African lion’s protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2011. Jeff Flocken, a director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, stated, “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble, and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop.”
In their recent press release, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined sport hunting “was not found to be a threat at this time.” Yet, they are recommending rules to help regulate the sell and trade of lions in the United States. These rules allow the import of lions only if they come from a country that proves to have a “scientifically sound” way of managing their lion populations. A country must show that hunting is being used to carefully manage the lion population.
The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed ESA protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To view the press release and to write the FWS with comments, please go to this link.