The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed listing the African lion (Panthera leo leo) as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act over concerns that the animal is in danger of becoming extinct as early as 2050.
In a statement released on Monday, Oct. 27, the FWS said that based on analysis of available scientific information, the African lion is in danger of getting extinct in the foreseeable future and that listing it as a threatened species would give it federal protection that may help the animal evade extinction.
If the proposal gets approved, the African lion will be protected by U.S. law regardless that a bulk of the animal's population live thousands of miles away in Africa as it would illegalize the killing or hunting of captive lions in the U.S. without permit that, in essence, indicates that a person enhances the survival of the species as a whole.
American citizens will also be prohibited to sell lions or their body parts across state or international borders, which could possibly stop the lion bones trade. Lion bones are sold in China as an alternative to tiger bones used in tonic wines that are supposed to have medicinal properties.
It is estimated that about 75,000 lions could be found in Africa in 1980 but this number has since dropped with the current number placed at only 32,000 to 33,000, or less than half the animal's population three decades ago. About 70 percent of these lions are in 10 areas in south and east Africa.
"Lion numbers have declined by more than half in the last three decades," said Jeff Flocken from the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "We thank the U.S. government for acknowledging that this iconic species is in grave trouble and that unsustainable trophy hunting is a part of this problem."
The FWS statement blames the declining number of African lions on the loss of their habitat, loss of their prey base and problematic interaction between humans and the animal.
"Human settlements and agricultural and grazing activities have expanded into lion habitat and protected areas, putting more livestock in proximity to lions," FWS said in a statement. "The lion's native prey base is hunted by humans at unsustainable levels to meet a growing demand for food for an expanding human population. As a result, lions kill more livestock, which then leads to retaliatory killings by humans."