As a global conservation leader, the United States needs to fully address its critical role in protecting an imperiled species. This means coming to terms with some ugly truths. The fact that there are as few as 32,000 African lions in the wild today is tragic enough. The fact that the United States is responsible for importing more than half of all lions needlessly killed by trophy hunters each year is simply unacceptable. It is time for a change.
And congressional leaders are taking notice. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, Virginia Democratic Rep. James P. Moran, co-chairman of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, is holding a briefing in B-354 Rayburn to discuss the urgent need to protect the African lion and to announce his leadership on a plan to take necessary action before the species disappears from the wild.
Clearly, the species is in trouble. In the past 33 years, the number of African lions has fallen by as much as 57 percent.
Fortunately, at the end of last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that the scientific and technical petition filed in March 2011 by a number of animal welfare groups including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation to list the African lion as endangered under the Endangered Species Act has enough merit to continue the listing process. By proclaiming that lions may warrant protection under the ESA, the government took the first important step toward helping this species.
From now until Jan. 28, the future of African lions lies in your hands. During this limited time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to hear from hundreds of thousands of stakeholders, decision-makers and concerned Americans who value the future of African lions. Such an overwhelming outpouring of support will be necessary to empower the U.S. government to protect the species in the face of loud protests from special interest trophy hunters.
A Synovate eNation poll from 2011 found that 90 percent of Americans support the U.S. government in taking actions to prevent trophy-hunting of African lions endangered with extinction, and 83 percent believe that the U.S. government should support international efforts to end the commercial trade of lion products.
An endangered listing for all African lions is long overdue. In fact, they are the only big cat not currently protected under the ESA. The result of a listing would be a ban on importation of lion parts, including trophies, to the U.S. To take action, attend the briefing Tuesday or go to HelpAfricanLions.org to find out what you can do. Lions need your help now more than ever.
Teresa M. Telecky is the director of the Wildlife Department of Humane Society International, Adam M. Roberts is the executive vice president of Born Free USA and Jeff Flocken is the North American regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.