WASHINGTON - The Obama administration's decision to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions is a turning point for the lions now roaming Africa, advocacy groups say.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service signaled in a document obtained by the Associated Press that it would classify the lion as threatened or endangered across its entire range in Africa. The agency has scheduled a noon conference call to discuss its findings.
The Humane Society of the United States projects that American trophy hunters imported 5,647 lions in the last decade. The group's president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle, said he expects that the regulations will make it much harder to bring lion hides back to the United States, thus removing a key motivation for hunters.
"If a particular hunt is not associated with a broader conservation program, it can't come in," Pacelle said.
The listings are accompanied by a directive that appears to touch on circumstances surrounding the killing of a well-known lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe earlier this year. The order states that the Fish and Wildlife Service will deny a permit to import a sport-hunted lion to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to violating federal or state wildlife laws.
Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, had pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorized hunting zone.
The Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned against linking the order with Cecil's death, describing the action instead as a redoubling of efforts to ensure that violators of wildlife laws don't reap future benefits from importing wildlife and wildlife products.