Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations
This post contains a call to action with an approaching deadline.
It’s a safe bet that when President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, African lions weren’t anywhere on his radar. “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” he wrote in his signing statement on December 28th. “It is a many-faceted treasure…”
Thirty-seven years later in 2011, a coalition led by the International Fund for Animal Welfare petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list Panthera leo leo under our nation’s ESA (find the petition here). It lists the usual culprits–loss of habitat and loss of prey due to human activity–as serious threats to lion survival. Throw in human population growth, the bushmeat trade, civil unrest, and desertification, and the King of the Jungle is hurting. Lions have disappeared from 78% of their historic range–which was most of Africa with a few exceptions–very dry deserts and very wet forests.
But why should a foreign species be listed under America’s Endangered Species Act? Because the U.S. is the largest importer of lions and their parts, and “American hunters pose a major threat to a species that is already in serious decline”:
According to data gathered for last year’s petition, more than 7,000 lion body parts were traded internationally between 1999 and 2008 for recreational trophy hunting purposes, representing more than 5,600 lions. The vast majority of those trophies were imported into the U.S. by, or on behalf of, American hunters… The number of trophies imported into the U.S. in 2008 was more than double that in 1999 and higher than in any other year in that decade (source: Scientific American, Nov. 27, 2012).
Trophy hunting is an abhorrent pursuit, depriving an individual of his or her life merely for an ego-massaging taxidermy mount and bragging rights. But here’s the added rub–a trophy hunter doesn’t selfishly snuff out just one life:
When considering the impact of trophy hunting on the African lion, one must consider how killing one lion can result in the death of other lions. Trophy hunters preferentially seek adult male lions. When an adult male lion, which is part of a pride, is killed by a trophy hunter, surviving males who form the pride’s coalition may become vulnerable to takeover by other male coalitions – often resulting in injury or death to the defeated males. Replacement male(s) who take over the pride will usually kill all pride cubs less than nine months of age in the pride. Similarly, lionesses defending their cubs from the victorious males are sometimes killed during the takeover. (Source: petition to list, pages 23-24)
Hunting is “good” for African lions
Would it surprise you to learn that Safari Club International (SCI) claims that hunting is good for Africa’s lions? Didn’t think so. Click here for a lion “preview” page from SCI’s online record book. Be sure to scroll down for the photos of the gloating Great White Hunters with their conquests–one guy is even giving the “thumbs up” over his dead beast.
Trophy quality is determined largely by the mane, although size of body and skull are also important. Because a lion’s Record Book score is the sum of its skull measurements, skull size is of primary importance to anyone seeking a high ranking. Unfortunately, a large-bodied, large-skulled lion can have a poor mane, and vice versa. The ideal combination of a full mane of whatever color the hunter prefers, a large body and a large skull is difficult to find and often necessitates a number of safaris (emphasis added). (SCI online record book preview for African Lion)
Matthew Scully, in his excellent 2002 book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, devotes an entire chapter (“The Shooting Field”) to SCI. An international organization with 50,000 members and 180 local chapters (according to Wikipedia), SCI maintains record books and award levels. “By the time you have attained all…awards in all categories…you will have extinguished the minimum-required 322 animals,” (Dominion 57). Scully goes on to debunk SCI’s claims that trophy hunting is an altruistic pursuit, supposedly benefiting African villagers and local economies.
Your call to action: January 28, 2013 deadline
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a preliminary finding that endangered species listing may be warranted for the African lion. Public comments to be included in the status review are being accepted until the end of Monday, January 28, 2013. If you haven’t weighed in yet (I personally was asleep at the switch; many of you probably commented weeks ago), time is running out.
Don’t overthink this–the message need not be a lengthy, researched tome. The Scientific American article is a good information source; advocacy facts are available from most animal conservation groups–here are some from Born Free USA. Five-ten minutes of our time for the survival of the African lion and you–and I–will sleep better tonight. That’s only fitting, knowing that–at least while he (and she) still roams the earth–The Lion Sleeps Tonight.