The threat of extinction of the African lions by 2050, according to Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is a chilling announcement, and as a result the agency is calling for increased protection of these lions (Panthera leo) under the Endangered Species Act.
The request would be to list these felines as threatened just before the endangered species category. The U.S. government could then provide a level of training and assistance to improve the conservation of this species on the ground and limit the sale of hunting trophies in the country or beyond, also known as “Trophy Hunting.
1) How Many Lions Are Left Today ?
Currently, the total lion population on the African continent is about 34,000, which is at least 50% less than three decades ago. However, these numbers are not entirely representative. Dan Ashe highlighted at a press conference that about 70% of the remaining lions (about 24,000) live in just 10 “stronghold” areas in southern and eastern Africa. Lions in other regions, such as West Africa, have been nearly entirely wiped out.
2) Why Are Lions Disappearing ?
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has identified three major threats facing lions:
Loss of habitat, loss of prey to the bushmeat trade, and human-lion conflict. Unfortunately, these three threats are all linked. By 2050 the population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double, which will inevitably lead to an increase in habitat for agriculture. Increased hunting of the prey that lions depend on, which will increase the number of hungry lions that prey on livestock and are killed in turn in retaliation.
The IUCN reports that retaliatory attacks on lions are the worst threats facing the species. In fact, the IUCN considers African lions to be mostly vulnerable to extinction, placing them on the Red List.
Another major threat to lions is sport hunting. Five conservation groups conducted a petition in 2011 to protect lions. These groups revealed that hunting was taking place in 16 of the 20 countries where lions still live and that the number of lion trophies imported into the United States by American hunters doubled between 1999 and 2008. The FWS says, through Ashe, that sport hunting does not endanger lions, especially since revenues from these hunts support lion conservation efforts.
This position is consistent with other positions FWS has taken on hunting and conservation, including last year’s decision to allow a hunter to import a black rhino trophy into the U.S for the first time in 33 years.
3) Solutions to Save the Lions
However, Jeff Flocken, the North American regional director of the International Fund for Wildlife Conservation calls the FWS announcement “very significant.” This proposal does not prevent American hunters from traveling to Africa to hunt lions, but it would require any hunter importing lion trophies into the United States to have a license. Mr. Ashe stated that these permits would only be granted if the lion is taken as part of a scientific hunting program that helps lion populations and if it does not endanger the sustainability of the species.
Flocken says the new permit could “quickly and easily” help reduce the threat hunters pose to African lions by identifying trophies from areas where lions are most at risk. “The permit system will allow the U.S government to monitor and evaluate incoming trophies,” Flocken says.
Ashe points to today’s announcement as an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges facing wildlife around the world while the human population grows exponentially. He also adds that it’s an opportunity for optimism: “We can succeed here,” he says. “We can change the direction of events. The U.S. has a lot of experience in wildlife management, and we hope to build on that by working with our African partners.”
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