Love it…list it…stuff it? African lion listing open for public comment


LionAid photo; click image

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

From the Have Your Cake & Eat It Too Department: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced that it intends to list the African lion as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) … while continuing to allow the importation of lion trophies by American trophy hunters under a permit system.

Who’s hailing this decision as a victory?

Safari Club International applauded the proposal as a win for hunters and a loss for conservation groups that sought the endangered designation that would have prohibited the importation of trophies, a big lure for hunters.

“This conclusion is a blow to the anti-hunting rhetoric put forward by organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States and International Fund for Animal Welfare,” the group said. ~The Washington Post  

Yes, the Clubbers are celebrating. And because some protection is better than none at all, luminaries like Jane Goodall have praised the decision, along with International Fund for Animal Welfare personnel, who call it a “win for lions.” IFAW, you might recall, was one of the petitioners seeking the more stringent endangered status back in 2011. At that time, IFAW’s North American director Jeff Flocken warned that, “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble, and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop” (Scientific American).

Flocken appeared on the PBS Newshour recently (video & transcript) to both praise the decision and to again assert that trophy hunting is a significant factor in lions’ precipitous decline–from 75,000 animals in 1980 to some 32,000 today. This is in contradiction to the assertion by FWS Director Dan Ashe that trophy hunting plays no role in lions’ survival woes even though the species “faces the threat of extinction by the year 2050”:

FWS identified three main threats currently facing lions: habitat loss, loss of their prey base to the bushmeat trade, and human-lion conflict. All three threats are inexorably linked. …

Lions do face another major threat: sport hunting. … hunting occurs in 16 of the 20 countries in which lions remain … the number of lion trophies imported back into the U.S. by American hunters doubled between 1999 and 2008. The official FWS position, however, iterated today by Ashe, is that sports hunting does not contribute to lions being endangered, especially when revenues from these hunts support lion conservation efforts. This is consistent with other hunting-as-conservation positions taken by FWS, including last year’s decision to allow a hunter to import a black rhino trophy into the U.S. for the first time in 33 years. ~Scientific American

And, indeed, some protection is better than none at all. And sure, regulated importation of lion trophies is preferable to trophy-palooza. But why act as if those are the only choices–even as the ominous clouds of extinction gather on the horizon? The answer may lie, in part, in a news release from Safari Club International:

“SCI raised over $1 million for SCI Foundation to combat the listing of the African lion as endangered. … SCI is proud of our Foundation which has won this battle against anti-hunting activists.”

How that money was used to influence FWS is a question American wildlife advocates should be asking. Instead of promptly eliminating a frivolous and easily-relieved pressure–the gratuitous, violent squandering of imperiled animals for ego gratification–FWS is praised for instituting a kill-’em-to-save-’em measure that regulates the approximately 400 lion trophies imported by U.S. hunters each year (source).

Let’s also note that SCI, while preferring threatened status to endangered, fundamentally disagrees with the decision to list lions at all and plans to “vigorously work to modify” the ESA’s section 4(d) rule. It’s under 4(d) that the permitting mechanism will be established, allowing “importation of sport-hunted African lion trophies” into the U.S. from those countries FWS has determined to have effective lion conservation programs. In addition, SCI wants to ensure that captive-bred lions killed in South African canned hunts (video) do not fall under the ESA importation process.

FWS could have shut down trophy importation of African lions, but instead proposes spending time, personnel, and taxpayer money regulating it while imperiled species here at home languish in ESA purgatory. Consider FWS’s recent mishandling of the proposed wolverine listing (a mere 250-300 animals remain in the Lower 48!), and you gotta wonder to what degree pressure from powerful interest groups crowds out science to influence listing decisions.

Since you and I don’t have a million bucks to use as leverage, we’ll have to go to bat for the big cats like we did back in January 2013.  So get your Leo-lovin’ self over to the USFWS Endangered Species African lion page, from which you can link to the “Threatened status for the African lion” public comment portalThere you’ll find related documents, a blue “comment now” button, and–if you scroll down–you can peruse recently-submitted comments.

John Dingell, at 88 the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a lead author of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, penned these cautionary words in 1991:  “Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books.”

The Lion Library isn’t in flames yet, but it is smoldering. And though it can’t save the species single-handedly, USFWS stands ready with a fire extinguisher–the ESA–in one hand, aiming to tamp down America’s contribution to the coming conflagration. In the other it holds a copy of the Section 4(d) Special Rules with which to fan the flames ever so slightly. It proposes to use both–simultaneously–the latter to benefit the wealthy few and their ghoulish, ego-driven trophy obsession. How do you feel about that? 


Learn more:

  • Explanation of ESA section 4(d) special rules, here.
  • “The lions sleeps tonight–and so should you. List the lion!” my original post, 1/26/13.
  • “The effects of lion trophy hunting on lion populations,” LionAid, a UK charity org.
  • “The myth of trophy hunting as conservation” (a 2010 paper from the UK).
  • “African lion may be deemed threatened in U.S.–will it help?” Nat’l. Geo.
  • Dingell quote from: “Balancing on the Brink of Extinction: The Endangered Species Act and Lessons for the Future,” 1991, here.


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