African Lions & the ESA

Almost four years after the USFWS received a petition from NGOs to list the African Lion as endangered, on January 22, 2016 the USFWS ruling will go into effect listing Lions as ENDANGERED in Central, Northern and Western, Africa and as THREATENED in Eastern and Southern Africa under the ESA and Asiatic Lions as ENDANGERED under the ESA.

On December 23, 2015, the USFWS published their final rule in the Federal Register. Their decision for these listings may well have been in response to the killing of a male lion in Zimbabwe last June. The notoriety of “Cecil,” killed by a hunter from the U.S. that may have been lured out of his protected reserve, caused a world-wide social media frenzy over the details of the lion’s death. Zimbabwe authorities panicked over the controversial news stories on the air and online. Zimbabwe called for an immediate ban on hunting and sought to extradite the U.S. hunter for the “illegal killing.” Within a week the hunting ban was lifted.

In October, Oppah Muchinguri, Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister said, he [U.S. Hunter] could not be charged as all his papers were in order. Muchinguri said Zimbabwe will review how hunting licences are issued. Zimbabwe previously called for the hunter to be extradited and face prosecution. However, it appears no laws were broken when he killed the lion using a bow and arrow. The trial of the hunter’s Zimbabwean guide continues; he denies the charge of failing to prevent an illegal hunt.

The IUCN lists the conservation status of African Lions as VULNERABLE. Researchers note that a species population reduction of approximately 43% occurred over the past two decades (roughly three lion generations). The causes of this reduction are primarily attributed to indiscriminate killing of lions in defense of life and livestock coupled with prey base depletion which continues to afflict the species. Population statistics are classified by geographic regions: West, Central, East, and Southern Africa. In West Africa, Lions are classified as ENDANGERED with population estimates from 850 to 1,163 which is below the endangered level of 2,500. Surveys of total lion populations are guesstimated at 16,000 to 39,000 but the numbers are steadily declining. The majority of the lion populations are found in East Africa and Southern Africa. Trophy hunting of lions is very high in Africa. Researchers note that in some places trophy hunting has reached unsustainable levels and suggest that hunters and guides use nose color as a selection tool to remove older males. Lions are viewed as problem animals by local people as being a threat to both livestock and human life. Yet, lions are the most sought after animal to view while visiting Africa.

The IUCN lists the conservation status of Asiatic Lions as ENDANGERED the total Asiatic Lion population is estimated to be 175 mature breeding individuals residing within the Gir Forest. Researchers note that the lions are moving beyond their protected area and will more than likely fall victim to human intolerance and persecution and are experiencing an increase in illegal poaching. Asiatic Lions are fully protected in India.

WCCLAS legal staff is still reviewing the redundant USFWS final rule on the listing of African and Asiatic Lions under the ESA. Our main focus is to determine what if any effect the new listings will bear on lions bred in captivity for the sole purpose of caged, confined and canned hunts; ways to circumvent the import permit requirements for lion trophies; and how strictly construed the import permit requirements will be.

Read the USFWS Final Rule

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