TOPICS > Science > wildlife

Protecting the African lion from trophy hunters

October 27, 2014 at 6:15 PM EDT
The African lion population is shrinking due to habitat loss, lack of prey and violent contact with humans, including trophy hunting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that these animals be listed as a threatened species. Jeffrey Brown learns more from Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

EDITOR’S NOTE/CORRECTION: In our segment about protecting African lions, we mistakenly said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed they should be listed as an endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service actually proposed listing the species as threatened, not endangered. Under the law, endangered species are in danger of becoming extinct. Threatened species are those that may become endangered in the foreseeable future.

We also said there are an estimated 30,000 lions left on the continent based on other estimates that had been given. The Fish and Wildlife Service says there are approximately 35,000 lions left. The Fish and Wildlife Service also took issue with our guest’s characterization of the role of sports hunting in the decision to list the lions as threatened. The official FWS position is that sports hunting is not one of the major reasons African lions face extinction. Click here for the government’s page on this topic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now to the story of a very different kind of power struggle.

The African lion, known for its beauty and strength, is one of the most recognizable creatures on the planet.  But their numbers are shrinking.  And, today, the U.S. government took a step aimed at protecting their future.

Jeff has our conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Today, there are thought to be little more than 30,000 African lions remaining on the continent, and about 70 percent of those live in just 10 major strongholds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that the African lion now be listed as an endangered species following a years-long push from a coalition of advocacy groups.

A representative from one of them joins us now: Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Well, welcome to you.

The Wildlife Service says the three main threats facing African lions are habitat loss, loss of prey base, and increased human-lion conflict.  Explain what that means for us.  What exactly is the threat?

JEFF FLOCKEN, International Fund for Animal Welfare: Sure.

Today’s announcement was very important for lions.  It not only said that this — in fact, the species is endangered with extinction, but that it deserves protection.  You mentioned the threats that include habitat loss, and when there’s conflict with local people and the lions are killed in retaliation, also loss of prey base.

But in addition to those, unsustainable trophy hunting have been a problem.  When the government made an announcement today, they went out of their way to include a new system to monitor and regulate imports of trophy-hunted lion into the U.S.  And that’s our best way to protect them here in the U.S.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, they did call for a new requirement for a permit, but they also said sport hunting was not found to be a threat to the species at this time.  It’s a little confusing.  Explain that.


Studies actually have shown in areas where there has been the most intense sport hunting, there have been the steepest declines of lions in those populations.  Lions have a unique social pattern and structure, where if you were to kill the largest dominant male, it disrupts the whole pride and can result in deaths of other males when a new male comes in to take over.

Females can die protecting their young.  And then a new leader of the pride can in fact kill all the cubs as a way to reassert itself.  This has caused a problem in different areas where sport hunting has happened.  And by cutting back on sport hunting and finding a more sustainable way, this can help the species in surviving.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Wildlife Service though is calling more attention — even more attention to the issue of the encroachment of humans and development.  That means just too much contact, humans taking away the land, taking away the prey, the other wildlife that lions would eat.

JEFF FLOCKEN: Absolutely.

Lions face a number of threats.  But, honestly, stopping trophy hunting is the most easily addressed.  Today’s decision went out of its way to start regulating permits.  Americans are responsible for over 60 percent of all African lions killed for sport in Africa.

And this new system will help to monitor and better regulate how these trophies come back into the U.S.  It’s our best way to help protect these species abroad.

JEFFREY BROWN: And very briefly, is that why this would be on a U.S.-designated list? What is the issue for a U.S. agency looking at this?

JEFF FLOCKEN: Absolutely.

The U.S. Endangered Species Act actually has provisions that allow us to list foreign species.  It currently has under 600 — just under 600 species listed.  And by doing that, we regulate the trade that Americans bring back and forth or within the country of these animals that Americans have found worthy of protecting.

A recent poll showed that over 90 percent of 1,000 Americans polled wanted to see the U.S. government ban trophy hunting if it would help to save African lions.  And that species is in trouble.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, thank you.

JEFF FLOCKEN: Thank you.