Photo credit: Billy Dodson
Even as it urges the U.S. government and lion range countries to do more to protect the African lion, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) welcomes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS’s) proposal to list Africa’s largest cat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to tighten regulations around the importation of lion trophies resulting from legal sport hunts in Africa.
In a recent news release, USFWS Director Dan Ashe stated: “It is up to all of us, not just the people of Africa, to ensure that healthy, wild populations continue to roam the savanna for generations to come.”
Africa’s total lion population has declined by 30 percent over the past two decades, and today less than 30,000 of the big cats remain.
“The threat of extinction is very real for African lions,” says African Wildlife Foundation Senior Director of Conservation Science, Dr. Philip Muruthi, adding that lions are extinct in North Africa, severely depleted across West and Central Africa, and now losing ground in their strongholds of East and Southern Africa.
While the primary threats to lions are habitat loss, conflict with people and a shrinking prey base, the cumulative effect of these in driving down lion numbers means all steps to reduce human-induced lion mortalities must be taken, including a ban on sport hunting. AWF is therefore urging all lion range countries to enact a moratorium on lion hunting and is further urging the United States to go a step further and ban all imports of lion trophies until the lion population in Africa recovers.
“For those sport hunters and hunting outfitters in the United States and in Africa’s lion range states that have always adhered to the letter of the law, we fully recognize the sacrifice we are asking them to make,” says Muruthi. “Still, we cannot afford to sacrifice the future of Africa’s lions for the sake of a few trophies.”
The absence of lions has profound and long-lasting repercussions on Africa’s ecosystems, according to Muruthi.
“Lions are top predators,” he explains. “If they disappear, the entire predator–prey equilibrium is disrupted.”
AWF is working in a number of different landscapes to counter these effects. This includes reducing conflict between people and lions by predator-proofing livestock enclosures so lions don’t kill livestock and people don’t kill lions, and supporting the efforts of local projects to develop lion guardian programs and inspire a lion conservation ethic within rural communities. A number of communities across East and Southern Africa are now benefiting from the presence of lions as a result of revenue generated from community-owned luxury lodges on their lands, the construction of which was funded by AWF. In spite of these and other efforts, lions face an uncertain future.
“Lions are resilient but the loss of their habitat and the growth of the human population in Africa means they are increasingly coming into conflict with people, with tragic consequences,” says Muruthi. “We all, from the pastoralist to the American hunter, must fight now to reverse the decline in Africa’s lion population if they are to have a future at all.”
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