After two decades of dramatic decline, African lions are finally getting the status that they, sadly, deserve. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that it would list one subspecies of lion as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act and another subspecies as “endangered,” meaning it is at risk of extinction.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, African lions are dying because of loss of habitat and prey, weak management of protected areas, and conflicts with humans. As a result, their population has tumbled 43 percent over the past 20 years. The new listings should help stem that decline. Currently, there are no restrictions on the import into the U.S. of lion parts — such as lion heads prized by trophy hunters.
When the new rules take effect next month, no lion trophies or parts or live animals will be allowed into the U.S. unless the government has issued specific permits for them. To do so, the Fish and Wildlife Service would have to find that the import enhances the survival of the species in the wild, was obtained as part of a well-managed, biologically sustainable hunting program in the country and was done so legally.
That’s not impossible, but it is a high bar for hunters to clear. Under the new guidelines, importing trophies from canned hunts — in which lions are bred to be put into a fenced-in area and killed for sport — generally would be disallowed by the agency, according to Humane Society officials. In the case of endangered lions, permits would be granted so rarely that they would basically be prohibited, the Fish and Wildlife Service says. The government also could deny permit applications to hunters who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to violations of wildlife laws.
Had that order been in place last summer, it’s possible that Minnesota dentist and big-game hunter Walter Palmer, who legally killed a beloved and recognizable male lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe in July, might not have gotten a permit to hunt there. Cecil was being tracked in a long-term scientific study before he was lured out of a national park into unprotected territory, where Palmer killed him, according to conservationists.
There’s no doubt that the killing of Cecil focused a much-needed spotlight on the plight of these creatures. But the effort to have lions listed as threatened or endangered predates that incident. The new listings are appropriate, and the U.S. should strictly enforce them.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES