Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Declaring African Lion Threatened

Published December 1, 2014

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act after finding the species is in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future.

The FWS decision came on October 27, three years after a coalition of organizations petitioned the agency to list the lions as endangered, prompting a formal review. According to the FWS, the main threats to lions are habitat loss, loss of prey the lions feed on, and increased human-lion conflict.

John J. Jackson, chairman of Conservation Force, an international organization focused on wildlife conservation, education, and research, disagrees with such listings of foreign species because the ESA doesn’t provide the same benefits for foreign species it provides for domestic ones.

“It is like a false promise that the United States can recover foreign species, when instead it often obstructs expert-designed conservation plans and activities in the foreign land and often does so over the objections of the wildlife authorities in that foreign country,” he said.

Habitat Encroachment

Although African lions are found all across the continent, nearly 70 percent of the lion population exists in ten major strongholds. Human settlements and farm expansions are encroaching on habitat, putting livestock in closer proximity to lions. According to the FWS, lions’ natural prey are also hunted by humans, diminishing the animals’ wild food supply. This results in lions killing more livestock and humans killing more lions in retaliation.

The FWS also proposes to require permits for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies. Although sport hunting has not been found to be a threat to the species, the FWS wants to require the lions hunted to originate from countries with a U.S. government-approved management plan for African lions.

Hunters Protecting Wildlife

Terry Anderson, the William A. Dunn distinguished senior fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center, says restricting sport hunting will have dire consequences on lion populations.

“Reducing the demand for hunting in Africa will reduce the incentive for natives to conserve lion habitat,” Anderson said.

Jackson agrees, saying the proposed listing would cause the loss of most African lions, because most lion conservation and habitat funding arises directly and indirectly from U.S. hunters, through regulated hunting in the user-pay system supported by hunter-funded conservation organizations, such as Conservation Force.

Elephant Ivory Ban Backfired

Ben F. Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club, an international organization of hunters and conservationists, said countries allowing lion hunting have healthy populations of lions.

“Science shows harvesting mature males that are not head-of-a-pride or breeding males, and preferably six years old or older, has no long-term impacts on a population. If hunting is stopped in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, it could be the death knell for lions. Without hunters and hunting concessions, there is no money for anti-poaching efforts and no motivation for local communities to tolerate lions,” Carter said.

As an example, Carter points to the recent “politically motivated” decision to ban elephant ivory out of Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Many parts of Zimbabwe are actually overpopulated by elephants, and elephant populations will suffer as a result.

“The ban on importing Zimbabwe elephant ivory will have a negative effect on the population, because local villagers will not tolerate destruction and will remove elephants,” he said.

Carter said proponents of hunting bans point to an incident where a number of elephants were shot or poisoned. “They blame it on hunters, when in fact it was native people in the area whose homes and crops were being damaged by the overpopulation of elephants in a nearby national park,” he said.

Canned Hunts

Anderson mentioned another element possibly driving the proposal to list lions as endangered: “canned” lion hunts. These hunts target lions raised in enclosures and then released into larger areas to be hunted.

“They may not be sporting, but ‘canned’ hunts do reduce pressure to hunt in other areas where hunts are very expensive,” Anderson said.

“Because of the concern about ‘canned’ hunts, I think listing is likely to happen and restrictions on importation will follow.”

The service is awaiting a 90-day public comment period before moving forward.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida