Let's make sure we're on the same page to start. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a trophy of a "sport-hunted" endangered species can be imported into the U.S. with a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) if there is a determination that the import enhances the survival of the species in the wild. The FWS has proposed listing the African lion as threatened with a special rule that a trophy of a "sport-hunted" lion can be imported into the U.S. only with a permit that can be given when a lion is killed in a country that has a scientific, robust management program to ensure the long-term viability of the species in the wild.
If you ask me, a "threatened" listing of Panthera leo under these conditions is not dramatically different than listing the lion as "endangered." Lion trophies can come in. But, there is an affirmative responsibility for the yearning hunter to meet certain significant criteria.
Ideally, no lion trophies should ever enter America-not when the species has suffered more than a 50 percent decline across its range in the past 35 years; not when the lion's habitat is dramatically decreasing; not when lions continue to be slaughtered in retaliatory killings. But, even the ESA listing of "endangered" would not mean a 100 percent ban on imports.
So, what do the hunters think? First, the Safari Club International (SCI) message seems to be clear (well, clear propaganda): "This decision was a defeat for the anti-hunting groups that had petitioned the FWS to list the lion as endangered." Ok, we asked for "endangered" and got "threatened." Yes, that is not what we wanted. But, what we got was fundamentally as good in practice. And, don't actions speak louder than words? Who cares what the listing is named? The outcome is that it will be much, much harder to import lion trophies: a practice that puts the species at risk.
Defeat? Lions had not been listed under the ESA. We petitioned for listing. They are now proposed for "threatened" status. I'll take it!
And, SCI even questions the need for protection of lions at all. In the organization's (incorrect and biased) view, the lion is doing just fine! SCI's Melissa Simpson has the gall to ask: "Is the condition of the lion really that dire?...There are between 32,000 and 35,000 lions living in the wild in Africa." 32,000 to 35,000 lions-compared to what? Those numbers do not exist in a vacuum; they actually indicate a shocking decline. In 1980, an estimated 78,500 wild lions roamed Africa. And, most of today's populations are too small and isolated from other populations to be viable. So, yes; more than a 50 percent decline in just a few short decades does indicate dire conditions. Clearly so.
SCI's president, Joe Hosmer, even argues that "by rejecting an endangered listing, the FWS has officially recognized the reality that the African lions are not actually on the brink of extinction." Well... That's certainly stretching the truth. Under the ESA, a "threatened" listing is granted to species that may not currently be on the brink of extinction, but that are "likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future." Doesn't sound too stable to me. Why play with fire?
But, wait; in the same Safari Club International press release that claims we were defeated, SCI also says that the proposed permitting scheme for trophy imports is of "vital concern to hunters." I'll bet it is. Perhaps because there will be fewer and fewer situations in which permits can be granted? Perhaps because lion hunting is actually unsustainable?
So, which is it, hunting world? Was this a defeat for animal advocates like me, or something to cause hunters serious concern?
To tell you the truth, I don't much care. The African lion is going to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. Hunters will no longer have blanket approval to bring in lion skins and mounts to make themselves feel special and powerful. No confusion here; lions are better off when the proposed rule becomes final and the lion has more protection than it did before.
Oh, one other thing. I love when the hunters call us "antis." Anti-hunting. I am. I am against hunting African lions for sport. I'd rather be anti-hunting than be anti-animal, anti-conservation, anti-lion, anti-elephant... but I dare not go on. Again, no confusion here.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,