BREAKING: African lion expected to get much needed protections

African lion expected to get much needed protections

UPDATE: The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced the greater protections for lions on their website. For more on this historic decision, go to IFAW CEO Azzedine Downes' blog.

It is with great excitement that we anticipate US Fish and Wildlife’s announcement later today that the African lion, Panthera leo, will finally get what it deserves under US law:

Real and meaningful protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Although the formal announcement is not expected until mid-day, both the New York Times and Washington Post have already reported details about the forthcoming announcement.

This is a welcome surprise. In October 2014, the department announced that it was proposing a Threatened listing for the species and putting that out for public comment before finalization. Shortly on the heels of the global outcry over the killing of Cecil the Lion this summer, and in light of new data suggesting that numbers of lions in the wild were significantly less than previously estimated, the US Government is announcing that stricter limitations are in order.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was one of the original authors of the Petition to list African lions under the Endangered Species Act, were one of the first organizations to call for USFWS to act on the listing after the Cecil the Lion killing last summer, and have long been an advocate for Panthera leo in a variety of arenas, from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the Convention of the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS).

Although technically lions in the south and east regions of Africa are to be listed as Threatened (those in the central and west regions will be given full Endangered status), USFWS plans to extend a rule that applies the highest protections to lions regardless of region, thereby giving the equivalent of Endangered-level protections to all lions.

This rule extension would require permits for the import of sport-hunted lion trophies, which should only be issued for lions originating from countries with a scientifically sound management plan for the species. A strong permitting system is critical because the US currently imports more than half of the hundreds of lion trophies brought home by trophy hunters globally each year.

So while this falls short of a full ban on lion trophy imports that IFAW would like to have seen, it is still a huge step in the right direction.  This decision clearly says that any alleged conservation benefits to hunting lions have to be scientifically proven before the US acknowledges it as such.

IFAW also continues to encourage independent economic analysis of lion trophy hunting’s impact on African communities, including that of seminal report, The $200 Million Question.

This move by USFWS reflects the sentiment of the American public as a whole. The vast majority of American citizens are sympathetic to the plight of the lions in the face of trophy hunting. According to polling by Synovate eNation on behalf of IFAW:

  • 89.8% of Americans support the US government in taking actions to prevent trophy hunting of African lions endangered with extinction
  • 90.7% of Americans support a ban on trophy hunting, even if it is not the greatest threat to lion populations
  • 95.3% of Americans are opposed to hunting any species in danger of extinction

So while there are additional threats to lions that must be stopped, and there is much that needs to be done to ensure that benefits to local people who live alongside lions are part of the solution, today’s anticipated decision addresses a needless and brutal threat to lions. It is almost 2016 – we do not need to kill lions to save them.

We are extremely thankful to our partners at Humane Society International and Born Free, both of whom have toiled on this issue with us over the past five years.

We consider this a huge win not only for lions, but for animal welfare and conservation efforts everywhere.


Write the FWS to thank them for protecting lions.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime