Importing a lion trophy into the United States just got a lot harder. The government has just announced that lions will now be under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. This will mean that hunters who wish to bring back their spoils will either be banned from doing so if they were obtained from certain countries, or will have to provide more detailed and comprehensive documentation if they were legally killed.
The new protections come after a review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of the scientific research on lions, in which new data has found that rather than being split into half a dozen distinct populations, lions are actually only formed of two subspecies. The first, Panthera leo leo, is the most threatened and includes all those lions that live in west and central Africa, as well as the small population in India. Those that are found in south and east Africa have now been grouped as Panthera leo melanochaita.
The FWS will now classify P. l. leo, of which it is thought only around 1,400 remain in the wild, as endangered, while P. l. melanochaita, which has a larger population of around 19,000, will be considered threatened. This means that it will be much trickier for hunters to justify bringing lion trophies, in the form of heads, skins and paws, back into the country. With Americans accounting for around half of all lion trophy hunters in Africa, the restrictions could have a significant effect on the industry.
Bringing lion parts back into the country will be completely banned if it comes from a country where the animals are endangered, and from those nations where they’re not, hunters will have to prove that the killing of the animal contributed to the conservation of the subspecies and came from a “scientifically sound management program.” With lion populations having decreased by around 50 percent since 1993, and expected to do the same again over the next 20 years, concern towards the survival of the iconic big cats has grown.
It’s generally assumed that the review and the subsequent regulations are coming off the back of the uproar seen around the world after the Minnesotan dentist Walter J. Palmer lured a well-known lion called Cecil out of a protected area in Zimbabwe and shot him with a bow and arrow. The global outrage that followed saw Palmer being forced to close his practice for weeks and go into hiding. It also raised over a million dollars for the scientific research project being carried out by Oxford University, of which Cecil was a part. Since then, France and Australia have also banned lion trophies, with the U.K. stating they will follow suit by 2017, and dozens of airlines refusing to transport trophies any longer.
This week also saw the news that one of Cecil’s offspring was spotted mating, meaning that with the expected birth of the grandcubs early next year, the much-loved lion’s lineage should continue.