US Regulators Move To List African Lions As A Threatened Species

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
In the wake of research suggesting that African lions faced the danger of extinction due to increased conflicts with humans and the loss of both habitat and prey, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed listing the iconic big cats as a threatened species.
According to Darryl Fears of the Washington Post, the proposal would make the African Lion the last of the big cats to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, and comes as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that their population has decreased by 30 percent over the past two decades.
“The African lion – a symbol of majesty, courage and strength – faces serious threats to its long-term survival,” FWS director Dan Ashe said in a statement Monday. “Listing it as a threatened species will bring the full protections of U.S. law to lion conservation, allowing us to strengthen enforcement and monitoring of imports and international trade.”
The agency explained that, in recent years, human settlements and agricultural activities had expanded into lion habitats and protected areas. Grazing activities have also spread into these areas, it said, putting more livestock in closer proximity to lions. With humans hunting the creatures’ prey base down to unsustainable levels, lions have been forced to kill more livestock, which in turn leads humans to kill them in retaliation and defense of their cattle.
In 1980, there were approximately 75,000 lions in Africa, Fears said, but those numbers have decreased to no more than 33,000, most of them concentrated in 10 areas in eastern and southern Africa. The FWS decision comes following two years of analysis, which has led the conclusion to declare that the lions are not at immediate risk of extinction, but are likely to “disappear in the foreseeable future” without proper legal protections.
“It is up to all of us, not just the people of Africa, to ensure that healthy, wild populations continue to roam the savannah for generations to come,” Ashe explained. “By providing incentives through the permitting process to countries and individuals who are actively contributing to lion conservation, the Service will be able to leverage a greater level of conservation than may otherwise be available.”
The Endangered Species Act prohibits the import, export, commercial activity, interstate commerce and foreign commerce, according to Reuters. Hunting a creature listed as threatened is legal if permitted by the host country, and the FWS said it is also looking to establish a rule that would allow permits for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies to be imported into the US. The agency is seeking comments from the public over the next 90 days.
“The decision to list the big cats as threatened – one level below endangered – would allow the U.S. government to provide some level of training and assistance for on-the-ground conservation efforts and restrict the sale of lion parts or hunting trophies into the country or across state lines,” said Scientific American’s John R. Platt, adding that the FWS are calling the move “an opportunity for awareness about the challenges that wildlife faces worldwide.”
In 2012, several conservation groups, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife, petitioned the government to list African lions as endangered, Fears said. He added that Monday’s FWS announcement was “praised by both supporters and opponents of the petition,” as it offered protection to the creatures while still allowing for the hunting of the big cats.
Related Links:
> Threat Of Extinction Looms For West Africa’s Lion Population
> Conservationists Reflect On Four Decades Of Endangered Species Act
> U.S. Government Lists African Lions as Threatened Under Endangered Species Act – International Fund for Animal Welfare Statement
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