Long Live the King: Protecting the African Lion

It’s hard to imagine a list of the most well-known animals in the world that does not mention the African lion. And yet, it seems like this “king of the jungle” cannot catch a break.

In the past 30 years it is estimated that the African lion population has dropped steeply by almost 50 percent (with numbers at once as high as 40,000—now somewhere around 23,000), with the last decade seeing a drop of roughly 90 percent. Where it used to be common that prides roamed the majority of the continent freely, human encroachment has ruined their natural habitat and has sequestered prides to a range that is estimated to be approximately one quarter of its previous size.

Additionally, climate change and severe droughts have plagued the animals with outbreaks of distemper.  Lions become infected with this virus after feeding on prey that contracted the parasite through ticks feeding off of them.  Already weakened by conditions of the drought, the lions cannot fight off infections leading to massive epidemics, most notably in 1994 and 2001. It is estimated that as global temperatures continue to rise and droughts become more commonplace, instances of the disease will become more commonplace and damaging.

As with any rare artifact, lions are prized by many sport hunters and are collected and traded like the rarest of jewels.  What has made African lions so special has put them in tremendous danger of being hunted and sold for top dollar—the United States leads with the majority of the trade coming through the country.

In the decade lasting from 1999 to 2008, it is estimated that 7,090 lions were traded around the world at the request of hunters. Out of these, the majority (4,139) were brought into the United States.  In addition to this, 63 percent of the 2,715 “specimens” (meaning parts, as it were) were also imported into the United States.

Despite the clear evidence that shows the number of African lions in a tailspin, this trade is still permitted.  As if by some shady backdoor dealings, the lion (and lion part) exchange remains relatively unrestricted. Until the United States takes responsibility for their role in the dwindling numbers of African lions, we can expect to see the numbers drop even more.

If the United States were to list the African lion as “endangered” on its Endangered Species List (by way of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), then the animal will be afforded the protection of “endangered species” and will have a better chance at survival.  In March of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned for just that by many groups including the Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States, Born Free Foundation, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and others like it.

“The Endangered Species Act,” Jeff Flocken, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), explains, “is the most comprehensive legislation we have for protecting these magnificent creatures from unsustainable trophy hunting by Americans who import over half of all sport-hunted lion trophies.” But when the 90-day deadline passed without a response from the FWS, the fate of the animal was left hanging. 

In order to ensure that the United States does its part to protect the African lion, the country must list the animal as “endangered.” Only then, will regulations be put into place that will restrict the hunting, buying, and selling of these animals, and allow them to replenish their populations.  Petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service here, and help this animal monarchy continue its reign.

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