biology

Endangered African Lions Likely To Gain Heightened Protection Status

New US regulations banning the importation of trophy lions will come into effect on January 22nd and conservationists hope later this year that the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) will ban lion trading all together.

Here are some concerning facts: The United States imported trophy lion parts from 741 lions in 2014, of which 373 were killed in organized hunts. In South Africa, the number of lion breeding facilities specifically made for breeding trophy lions almost doubled between 2005 and 2013. Meanwhile, the number of lions in Africa has declined by half since the 1990s.

african-lion

African lions in Botswana. Image credit: SPL

The new US regulations could be a turning point. About 90% of the hunters involved in organized hunts were from the US, so the new rules will have a significant impact. The issue gained global attention in July of 2015 when US dentist Walter Palmer, killed the beloved lion Cecil.

“We certainly view this as a progressive step,” said Mark Jones, an advocate with the Born Free Foundation in the US.

“One of the factors we’re concerned about is poorly managed trophy hunting operations and the listing will impose requirements on US citizens who wish to import lion trophies from Africa. We are encouraging EU countries to look closely at this issue and restrict or ban the imports of trophies accordingly.”

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Male African lion. Image credit: Saibal

Now conservationists are turning their attention to the CITES conference in late September of 2016. At that conference, officials from 181 parties will vote to upgrade lions to Appendix 1, which would see all trade in lions banned.

Currently, lions are listed under Appendix 2 at CITES, meaning their trade is allowed but regulated by permit.

“The legally declared export of lion bones has more or less tripled over the last decade,” said Jones.

A recent study showed that between 2008 and 2011 in South Africa, 1,160 lion skeletons were legally exported, with almost all of them going to Laos, Asia.

To ban all trade in lion trophies officials will need two thirds support at the CITES conference later this year. Opposition is expected from South Africa and other southern countries, where lion populations are relatively stable and where lots of money is being made from trophy trading.

While banning lion trade is a key step to saving the African lions, scientists indicate that loss of habitat and prey are the main reasons for the decline, especially in the north-west. Long before the killing of Cecil and the public attention it brought, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed the lions declining population through long term scientific studies.

“There has been, through the IUCN, a lot of work done on the conservation status of the lion across the African continent,” said John Scanlon from CITIES.

“I would say this work through the CITES periodic review committee and through IUCN has predated the Cecil incident by some way but that incident has certainly given a lot more public attention to the fate of the lion.”

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