African Lions Will Suffer Unless U.S. Cuts Its Own Red Tape
Only by fixing the system can we make sure we are providing imperiled species like the African lion with the best opportunity for recovery and survival in our rapidly changing world. This is what the Endangered Species Act is meant to do.
Loss of habitat and prey, over-exploitation for trophy hunting and commercial trade, and retaliatory killings from human-wildlife conflict, have all contributed to the decline of the African lion. Now we can add one more threat to the list: bureaucratic delay.
Last week marked the passing of the 90-day deadline for the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s (FWS) initial response to a scientific petition to have African lions listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
This petition, filed on March 1st by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and a coalition of other wildlife and animal welfare groups, is aimed at providing vital protections for a species that has declined by nearly 50 percent over the last two decades from a variety of threats including trophy hunting by wealthy Americans.
But this isn’t about the numerous and serious threats to lions in the wild, it’s about the bureaucratic red tape hindering a timely endangered species listing.
Listing delays prevent tangible protections from coming into place against on-the-ground threats to species, and in the case of species lusted after by the trophy-hunting community, delay provides an opportunity, if not a twisted incentive, for hunters to kill individual animals while they still can.
In 2007, the proposed – and well publicized – listing of polar bears proved that a killing-spree incentive is created when a species is considered for listing. The year prior to the polar bear’s listing under the ESA, the number of polar bear trophies imported into the U.S. rose dramatically - to 112 - more than double the previous year’s total of 52 imports. And imports occurred at break-neck speed until the day polar bear was finally protected in May, 2008.
With lions, IFAW and other groups fear that American trophy hunters will again rush to get their trophies before import into the U.S. becomes more difficult, if not impossible. If the pattern holds true, precariously situated African lions will surely suffer – individually and as a species.
The most recent list of “candidate species” released by FWS showed a log jam of more than 250 species, and a New York Times article has stated FWS is in “emergency triage mode” as it struggles to find capacity due to limited funding and manpower to address the back-log of petitions to protect imperiled species. As a result, many candidate species linger for years without listing and the meaningful protections that come with it.
What’s needed is increased efficiency at FWS and an increase in funding provided by Congress. While requests for increased conservation funding are scoffed at by this Congress, funding FWS at the level necessary to respond to petitions in a timely manner will actually result in overall savings as the government will no longer have to spend limited resources defending themselves in court when they miss statutorily imposed listing deadlines.
And timing in these situations can mean everything.
There are only thought to be between 20,000 and 40,000 wild African lions left in the world. Yet an average of 500 wild lions are killed annually for sport in Africa. And as American imports make up well-over half of all sport-hunted lion trophies globally, a timely listing that deters American hunters from killing African lions would have a significant conservation impact. Hundreds of lions would be saved annually.
Only by fixing the system can we make sure we are providing imperiled species like the African lion with the best opportunity for recovery and survival in our rapidly changing world. This is what the ESA is meant to do.