New proposed protection for the African Lion

On October 27, 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed to list the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This move comes after a March 2011 proposal to list the African lion as endangered from a coalition of conservation groups. African lions are currently listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), meaning that only an export permit is required to import lions and lion products worldwide. This proposal will create a permit process to further regulate the import of lions and lion products into the United States, reigniting fierce debate from conservationists and hunters that is unlikely to be resolved with this proposal.

African lion female_Larry Bright

This proposal was seen as a victory by hunting groups such as the Safari Club International (SCI) that had fought the proposal to list the lion as endangered. SCI reported raising over $1 million to combat the conservationists’ proposal to list the African lion as endangered, with SCI President Craig Kauffman stating that “SCI is proud of our Foundation which has won this battle against anti-hunting activists.” The proposal was not a complete defeat for conservation groups however. Several groups such as the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) partially welcomed the decision. IFAW North American regional director Jeff Flocken would go on to state,

We thank the U.S. government for acknowledging that this iconic species is in grave trouble, but to allow trophy hunting to continue unabated is kicking an animal while it’s already down.

The USFWS proposal still does increase the requirements around importing lions and lion products into the United States by creating a new permitting process. The partial defeat for the conservationists however is present in the proposed rule:

The proposed 4(d) rule, if finalized, will establish a permitting mechanism to allow importation of sport-hunted African lion trophies into the United States provided that they are established as originating from countries with a scientifically sound management plan for African lion. Permits may also be issued for scientific purposes, activities that enhance the propagation or survival of the subspecies in the wild, zoological exhibitions, educational purposes or other purposes consistent with the ESA.

Trophy hunting was identified by the conservation groups in the original proposal as one of the factors that was contributing to the decline of African lion populations. Unfortunately for these groups, USFWS continues to take the stance that trophy hunting can be a beneficial tool for conservation. As stated in USFWS’s findings on the proposal,

Trophy hunting of lions, if part of a scientifically based management program, can provide direct benefits to the species and its habitat, both at the national and local level. Trophy hunting and the revenue generated from trophy hunting are tools that range countries can use to facilitate maintaining habitat to sustain large ungulates and other lion prey, protecting habitat for lions, supporting the management of lion habitat, and protecting both lions and their prey base through anti-poaching efforts.

USFWS does indicate later in their findings that trophy hunting could contribute to the decline of lion populations due to a variety of factors associated with trophy hunting. However, it appears USFWS will continue to allow trophy hunting with the African lion as it has done with other endangered or threatened species such as the African elephant and the Markhor (a type of goat). Until conservationist groups can demonstrate that trophy hunting is not beneficial and actually is a detriment to a species’ survival, it seems unlikely for conservationists to achieve their goal of ending trophy hunting.

Wade Tanner is a first-year MPAff student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. He is a native Texan who graduated from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science in 2010. For the past four years he has been working with several of the world’s leading immigration law firms assisting Fortune 500 companies and individuals with their wide-ranging immigration needs.

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