The petition filed with the U.S. Department of Interior by a coalition of wildlife groups to list African lions as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act has been welcomed by Dereck Joubert, director of the new National Geographic film The Last Lions.
“This petition comes at a vitally important time when we are looking down the barrel of extinctions of wild lions. Its a shocking tipping point when there are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild, and what happens to tigers today happens to lions tomorrow,” Joubert said in an email.
“We are releasing our film, The Last Lions, across the United States, at the same time as this petition goes in to the Department of Interior. We endorse the petition, because it’s time for a real conversation about this issue at all levels.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free USA, Born Free Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife, filed the petition last week.
“The population and range of the African lion are in alarming decline,” the coalition of wildlife groups noted in a news release. “During the past two decades, the number of African lions has declined by at least 48.5 percent as a result of retaliatory killings, loss of habitat and prey species, over-exploitation by recreational trophy hunters and commercial trade, disease, and other human-caused and natural factors. Today, there are fewer than 40,000 African lions remaining — most of them in just a handful of countries. Of the remaining populations, two-thirds are neither protected nor viable over the long run.”
“The African lion is facing an uncertain future at best,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “There is a real possibility that more African countries will lose their wild lions altogether if the current situation is not reversed,” “Currently, lions are not adequately protected by existing regulatory measures at national, regional or international levels. We need to take urgent measures to conserve the African lion before it’s too late.”
The petition documents that international trade in African lions and their parts, including trophy hunting, is playing a role in the reduction of the population. “From 1998 through 2008, at least 7,445 wild lions were traded internationally with the United States importing a minimum of 4,021. Additionally, 64 percent of the 5,663 wild lions
traded internationally for recreational trophy hunting purposes were imported to the United States,” the colation news release explained.
“The king of the jungle is heading toward extinction, and yet Americans continue to kill lions for sport,” said Jeff Flocken, Washington D.C. office director of IFAW. “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop.”
According to the wildlife organizations, despite the significant and continued declines in population and range, the number of lion trophies imported to the United States is increasing.
“In 2008, trophy imports to the United States were greater than any other year in the preceding decade and more than twice the number in 1999.
“Listing the African lion as Endangered would generally prohibit the import of lion trophies into the United States, an essential step to reversing the current decline of the population. Moreover, the listing would stop imports of commercially traded lions and lion parts that do not benefit lions in the wild.”
“The United States is the leading importer of lions and lion parts for commercial and recreational trade – this includes skulls, claws, hides, and live lions,” said Teresa Telecky, director of the wildlife department at The HSUS. “Americans’ thirst for exotic goods and trophies to hang on their walls is driving lions to extinction. The African lion
simply cannot endure this level of exploitation if their long-term survival is to be ensured.”
Protection under the ESA would also help increase global awareness to the plight of the African lion and may generate additional resources to tackle in-country threats such as poisoning, persecution and habitat
loss that currently confront wild lions, the wildlife organuzations added.
“The U.S. government must recognize that African lions are in danger of extinction throughout a significant portion of their range, acknowledge our nation’s significant role in the lion’s fate and bring greater scrutiny to all factors contributing to the decline of lion populations,” said Bob Irvin, senior vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife. “The African lion is a vital cultural asset, a symbol of the world’s last great vestiges of wildness, and a critical part of healthy ecosystems that must be protected.”
The Secretary of the Interior has 90 days to assess whether an Endangered listing under the ESA may be warranted, 12 months to decide whether to propose listing and then another 12 months to make a final
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.