Ensuring that healthy, wild lion populations continue to roam Africa’s savannas has become increasingly challenging, as southern Africa’s expanding human population comes into ever greater conflict with lions across much of their range.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and our partners understand that securing the lion’s future depends upon finding solutions that recognize the needs of those people and communities who share the landscape with them.
Earlier this year, we protected lions under the Endangered Species Act, giving us the responsibility to regulate the import of live lions, lion trophies and other parts and derivatives through our permitting system. These new permitting requirements also give countries with lion populations – especially if they want to continue to host U.S. hunters – a powerful new incentive to work with us to implement sustainable, scientifically sound management strategies.
Today, I’m proud to announce decisions regulating the import of sport-hunted lion trophies under the ESA from South Africa – home to many of the remaining wild lion populations. These decisions will help build and sustain community support for lion conservation, while also taking steps to halt the exploitation of these incredible animals.
Beginning today, the United States will not allow the import of lion trophies taken from captive lion populations in South Africa. While U.S. law has not prohibited such imports in the past, the protections now afforded to lions by the ESA do not allow us to issue import permits.
In order to permit the import of lion trophies under the ESA, exporting nations like South Africa must provide clear evidence showing a demonstrable conservation benefit to the long-term survival of the species in the wild. In the case of lions taken from captive populations in South Africa, that burden of proof has not been met. Many Americans, whether they hunt or not, believe that hunting captive-bred lions is unethical. Regardless, our decision to prohibit such imports is based solely – as the law requires – on our evaluation of the conservation benefits of captive lion hunts. If and when such benefits can be clearly shown, we may reevaluate our position.
The vast majority of lion trophies imported into the United States in recent years have been from these captive populations in South Africa, so our decision will likely substantially reduce the total number of lion trophy imports.
At the same time, we recognize the need to work with African nations and conservation organizations to engage and empower local communities – helping them to view lions as an asset, not a liability. The human population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to more than double by 2050 – pushing settlements, grazing and agriculture into lion habitat. Even protected areas are affected. Humans are also depleting the wild prey that supports lions, consuming these animals and selling them as bushmeat, or wild-sourced meat. Faced with declining habitat and prey, lions are increasingly targeting livestock and people – resulting in retaliatory killing of lions.
Unless effective measures are taken to protect lions, their prey and habitat, wild populations of lions may face extirpation from many parts of their historic range within that time frame.
That’s why we’re working on multiple levels with our partners to protect lions and address the threats they face. This includes efforts to reduce cattle depredation and other lion-related conflicts, while also supporting tourism and other sustainable economic activities involving wild and wild-managed lions. We’re also expanding our capacity to work with international law enforcement partners to investigate, arrest and prosecute poachers and traffickers.
In addition, we continue to provide grant funding that supports on-the-ground conservation efforts for lions and other species through our International Affairs Program. Grant funds have supported projects to build the capacity of wildlife agency officials to protect and manage their lions, and to reduce conflicts with lions in communities that share the range.
Under certain conditions, scientifically sound conservation programs that include sport hunting of wild lions can significantly contribute to the long-term survival of lions. U.S. hunters – the vast majority of whom strongly support ethical, sustainable game management – make up a disproportionately large share of foreign hunters who book trophy hunts in Africa. Their participation in well-managed hunting programs can help advance the conservation benefits provided by such programs.
We have determined that sport hunting of wild and wild-managed lions does contribute to the long-term conservation of the species in South Africa, thanks to the effective management program overseen by South Africa’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs. As a result, we will allow the import of lion trophies taken with the authorization of the South African government from wild or wild-managed populations.
Let me be clear : We cannot and will not allow trophies into the United States from any nation whose lion conservation program fails to meet key criteria for transparency, scientific management and effectiveness.
But it’s important to understand that lions are not in trouble because of responsible sport hunting.
We have also received applications from U.S. hunters that hunted or will be hunting in four other African nations – Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – for permits to import sport-hunted lion trophies. We are evaluating the sport hunting programs in those countries and will only approve those applications if we receive sufficient evidence of long-term benefits to wild lions resulting from those programs.
Today’s findings – and the actions we take as a result – support effective lion conservation. Most of all, they demonstrate our unflagging resolve to sustain wild lions for generations to come.