The new rules will come into effect on January 22, 2016.
New rules will generally prohibit import of sport hunted trophies of lion subspecies found in west and central Africa, except in some exceptional circumstances.
Permits for import of sport hunted lion subspecies found in southern and eastern Africa will be allowed only from those range countries which have “management programs that are based on scientifically sound data and are being implemented to address the threats that are facing lions within that country.”
On Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that two subspecies of lions — Panthera leo leo and Panthera leo melanochaita — would be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The new rules, which will come into effect on January 22, 2016, will impose stricter permit requirements for trophy hunting, and will make it harder to import lions or their parts into the country, according to the announcement.
Following new lion classification, lion populations in India, and west and central Africa have been clubbed into the subspecies Panthera leo leo. Only about 1,400 of these lions remain in the wild, and this lion subspecies will be listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. FWS said.
The second subspecies, Panthera leo melanochaita, which includes lions found across southern and eastern Africa, will be listed as Threatened under the ESA. These lions number between 17,000 to 19,000 in the wild.
“We’re protecting the most vulnerable lion subspecies in India and parts of Africa as Endangered,” Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a video statement. “Doing so will impose strict new permit requirements, and largely prohibit the importation of these lions into the US.”
“We’re also designating the remaining lion subspecies in Africa as threatened, and issuing a special rule for their management,” he added. “That rule extends significant new protections to this threatened subspecies prohibiting most imports of live lions and sport-hunted trophies into the U.S.”
U.S. is the biggest importer of lion trophies in the world. In 2014, for instance, more than 700 sport hunted lion trophies were imported into the country, according to an NBC Bay Area investigation. But importing lion trophies could become much harder once the rules come into effect.
Under the new rules, permits will allow the import of sport hunted P. l. melanochaita only from those range countries which have “management programs that are based on scientifically sound data and are being implemented to address the threats that are facing lions within that country,” according to the U.S. FWS. Range countries for these lions include Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The new rules also generally ban the import of P. l. leo. But permits can be granted in exceptional circumstances, “when it can be found that the import will have a benefit to the species,” the U.S. FWS said. These can include permits for “scientific purposes that benefit the species in the wild, or to enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species.”
Ashe also issued an order that bans anyone who has been previously convicted — or has pleaded guilty — to violations of wildlife laws either in the U.S., or abroad, from receiving permits to import sport hunted trophies of any protected species including lions.
“Importing sport hunted trophies and engaging in other activities affecting federally protected wildlife is a privilege, not a right — a privilege that violators of wildlife laws have demonstrated they don’t deserve,” Ashe said in the statement.
A 2015 study revealed that under current levels of management, around 50 percent of lion populations in west, central and east Africa could be wiped out in the next 20 years.
So conservationists are welcoming the U.S. government’s decision to protect lions.
“The U.S. government’s actions are necessary to allow the recovery of one of the most iconic top predators on the planet,” John Robinson, WCS Chief Conservation Officer, and Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science, said in a statement. “Better information on population numbers and their distribution are needed in many areas to improve management. We believe that listing the lion under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will encourage this better management of lion populations.”
Last month, France banned the import of sport hunted lion parts.