U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services new restrictions will make importing lion trophies much harder, five months after a U.S dentist killed famous Zimbabwean lion, Cecil.
The U.S. now plans to extend its endangered species protection list to lions in Africa, 5 months after the American dentist was found to have caused an international furore by killing Cecil, a famed lion living in Zimbabwe. This has been done to act as an insurance policy to maintain the species.
US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will now classify lions in the southern and eastern parts of Africa as threatened, with those in the central and western regions also now being covered by this full endangered status. The move will place a tighter set of restrictions on the import of lion trophies, such as paws or heads.
While the U.S. cannot actually regulate hunting in other countries, the move is going to be significant because around half of all lion hunting in that is going on in Africa is conducted by many Americans. According to FWS data, more than almost 5,600 lions have now been killed and imported by American hunters over the past decade.
Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, has provoked significant outrage since July when he shot the lion, a well-known lion with a very distinctive dark mane. Cecil was lured outside the boundaries of Zimbabwes Hwange national park where Palmer, who had now paid many thousands of dollars to kill a lion, shot Cecil with a bow and arrow.
Palmer has said that he certainly would not have shot at Cecil if he was known that the lion had a name. His dental practice has now closed temporarily because of these vociferous protests, with this opprobrium prompting many regulators to look at new methods to curb trophy hunting.
Under the newest FWS rules, bringing lion parts to the United States will now be banned in the majority of circumstances if the animal is from a country where lions are deemed endangered. Hunters will now have to show the trophies were in fact legally obtained from countries which have a sound management program that benefits that particular subspecies in the wild.
This regulation is now expected to place a far bigger burden of proof upon hunters who have a claim that the money from lion hunting has been potentially utilized to help communities in Africa as well as the overall conservation of lions. The persistent downward trend in lion numbers, because of habitat loss and hunting by locals as well as foreign tourists, suggests there has been little conservation benefit from organized trophy hunts.
Lion populations are now only increasing in southern Africa. Many lion populations are now either completely gone or likely expected to disappear within the future decades to the extent which the intensively managed populations in the south of Africa may very soon supersede those iconic savannah landscapes in east Africa as some of the most successful sites for lion conservation.
Despite these alarming sliding numbers, lions are only listed as vulnerable, rather than endangered, by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The organisations red list estimates there are around 20,000 left in Africa. A separate population of Asiatic lions, numbering around 520, live in the Indian state of Gujarat.
The lion is just one of the planet’s most highly beloved species as well as an irreplaceable piece of our shared global heritage, said Dan Ashe, director of the FWS. If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, its up to all of us, not just the people of Africa and India to take real action.
Sustainable trophy hunting that acts as part of a well-managed conservation program can and certainly does contribute to the very survival of these species in the wild, providing real incentives to oppose poaching and conserve lion populations.
Conservation groups have now welcomed by the new rules but said they would monitor how they will be applied in practice.
In November, France had banned the importation of lion trophy parts, while the UK has announced that it will bring in a similar ban by 2017 unless there is a quite a significant improvement in the real performance of the entire hunting industry. Australia had outlawed the import of lion trophies in March.
Cecil the lions lineage looks set to continue, with his son having been observed mating. Scientists expect the birth of Cecils grandcubs in March. They are sure that Xanda is Cecils offspring because Cecil was the only pride male around at the time of his birth in 2011.
His movements have been tracked by Oxford Universitys Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, which as researched lions in Hwange since 1999.