It's about time.
Less than six months after the illegal hunting and killing of Cecil — a beloved male Southwest African lion who was shot and killed by an American dentist — the US government announced it will amend its Endangered Species Act to include protection of African lions. Not only that, they will also tighten laws to restrict the importation of wildlife trophies. Take that sport hunters!
The announcement is in response to the dramatic decline of lion populations in the wild.
“The lion is one of the planet's most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” said Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). “If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannahs and forests of India, it's up to all of us — not just the people of Africa and India — to take action.”
Alarmingly, lion populations have declined by 43 percent over the last 20 years due to a combination of habitat loss, food availability, and poaching. Under the amendments, two lion subspecies, Panthera leo leo from India and western and central Africa, and Panthera leo melanochaita, from eastern and southern Africa, will receive more protection.
P. l. leo, also known as the African lion, is now labeled as endangered — with only 1,400 individuals remaining. This means that any importation of these animals is strictly prohibited, unless it is found to somehow benefit the species. P. l. melanochaita is now deemed as threatened, with populations ranging between 17,000 and 19,000. Although they are not in danger of becoming extinct, tighter regulations are still in place in regards to importing both trophies and live animals.
“Sustainable trophy hunting as part of a well-managed conservation program can and does contribute to the survival of the species in the wild, providing real incentives to oppose poaching and conserve lion populations,” said Ashe. “Implementing a permit requirement will give us the authority we need to work with African countries to help them improve their lion management programs.”
But will these new statuses stop people from illegally hunting these precious animals?
Officials hope so. If someone decides to poach these animals regardless of their status, FWS is working to ensure that people who violate these new laws will no longer be able to secure future permits for wildlife-related activities. “Importing sport-hunted trophies and other wildlife or animal parts into the United States is a privilege, not a right; a privilege that violators of wildlife laws have demonstrated they do not deserve,” said Ashe. “We are going to strengthen our efforts to ensure those individuals – people who have acted illegally to deprive our children of their wildlife heritage – are not rewarded by receipt of wildlife permits in the future.”
I for one will not be happy until all trophy hunting is illegal, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.
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