African lions will now protected by the Endangered Species Act, according to a new measure initiated by the Obama administration and revealed by representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The decision to guard these threatened animals from extinction has been in the making for approximately 4 and a half years.
It had previously been demanded by several petitions issued by animal advocacy groups such as the Born Free USA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Recently, such efforts intensified, especially on the heels of the scandal involving Cecil the lion, who was slaughtered in Zimbabwe on July 1, by Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and amateur hunter.
At the time, Palmer allegedly offered $50,000 to Theo Bronkhorst, a hunting guide employed by Bushman Safaris, so as to draw the Southwest African lion out of Hwange National Park, in order to make a killing.
The 13-year old wild animal was initially injured by an arrow, and afterwards hunted down for 40 hours, until it was eventually fatally shot with a rifle, skinned and decapitated.
When the sanctuary’s employees found the lion’s carcass, they noticed that his radio collar had been removed, and the guilty parties were soon identified.
However, Palmer received no punishment for his actions, since he had previously obtained a hunting permit, and the only interdiction imposed on him was that he could no longer go to Zimbabwe as a recreational hunter.
Now, 5 months after this incident which sparked media furor and the outrage of numerous animal rights groups, this measure adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wild Service will impose more restrictions for Americans trying to hunt lions abroad.
This comes at a critical moment in history, given the fact that the African lion population has already dwindled by as much as 60%, and is now limited to just around 30,000 animals.
One species that will benefit from heightened protection through this legislation currently includes around 1,400 lions in India and the central and west regions of Africa, and will now be considered endangered.
The other species, which inhabits the eastern and southern parts of Africa, will be treated as threatened, since its populations measures around 19,000.
The key factors that have caused lions to be brought to the brink of extinction have been the significant reduction in the surface covered by African grasslands (which represent the species’ natural habitat), coupled with unregulated hunting.
For instance, just in the last ten years, American hunters have brought into the country as many as 5,647 lion heads, skins, paws and other similar “trophies”, as estimated by the Humane Society of the United States.
Now, as a result of this recently introduced legislation, hunters who have breached national or state requirements imposed by the Fish and Wildlife Service will no longer be allowed to take such mementos back in the United States.
If such a rule had existed earlier, Cecil might have never been harmed, since Palmer had been found guilty of an unauthorized hunt involving a black bear several years ago.
Moreover, imports from countries where lions are listed as endangered will be strictly forbidden, whereas those from nations such as South Africa, Tanzania or Zimbabwe, where the wild animals are considered to be threatened, will be much more harshly regulated.
Therefore, animal rights advocates are now hoping these new restrictions will significantly diminish the appeal of lion hunting, aiding conservation efforts meant to curb this species’ dramatic decline.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Safari Club International Foundation and other similar hunting organizations have claimed that the measures are actually counter-productive, since sport hunting generates vital revenues that actually assist in preserving the lion population.
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