Mar 2

The African lion is under growing threat from US hunters, leading to calls for the species to be listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Photo of two African lions

The African lion occurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa, while a second subspecies, the endangered Asiatic lion, occurs in Asia.

The call to list this iconic predator is being made by a coalition of wildlife organisations, including IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife. They report that US trophy hunters are emerging as a strong and growing threat to the lion’s survival, with increasing demand for trophy rugs and other lion parts helping to drive the species towards extinction.

Growing trade in lion trophies

During the last decade, around two thirds of lions killed for sport in Africa ended up being shipped to America, and numbers have been rising sharply.

According to Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), “The king of the jungle is heading toward extinction, and yet Americans continue to kill lions for sport. 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.”

Photo of African lion cub lying on female's back

When adult male lions are killed, new males may take over the pride and kill the previous male’s cubs.

Unfortunately, the number of lions killed by trophy hunters is only part of a larger picture. Hunters prefer to bag large male lions, which can set off struggles for dominance among the survivors, often leading to the deaths of other adult males, females and cubs.

African lion heading towards extinction

Despite being one of Africa’s most charismatic mammals, the African lion is already under serious threat and its population has fallen sharply in the last 100 years. Lions have been lost from large parts of Africa, and only seven countries are now thought to contain more than 1,000 lions each.

Photo of African lion carcass

Trophy hunting is just one of many threats faced by the African lion.

The single biggest threat to the African lion is conflict with humans, with many lions shot or poisoned by farmers trying to protect livestock. The spread of agriculture and development has also reduced the lion’s habitat and decreased the availability of its prey. The African lion is now becoming increasingly rare outside of protected areas, and its populations are becoming more isolated and fragmented within its shrinking range.

Controversial hunting ban

The new petition to the US government is calling for a ban on the import of lion parts into the United States in an effort to reduce this growing threat. A listing on the U.S. Endangered Species Act would also help to raise awareness of the importance of conserving this beautiful big cat.

Photos of African lionesses allogrooming

African lions have undergone a sharp decline in the last century. The species as a whole is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

However, some argue that responsible hunting can help preserve lion populations, and that existing regulations, such as CITES, should be reinforced to protect the African lion.

According to Luke Hunter, executive vice-president of Panthera, “If you remove hunting, the very real risk is that you force African governments to generate revenue from that land and the obvious thing is cattle and crops which just wipe out habitats.”

Read the petition to the US Government to list the African lion as endangered (PDF 2.69 MB).

View more stunning lion photos and videos on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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