For centuries, lions have loomed large in our cultural imagination, not least because of their powerful symbolic meaning as icons of great strength, fierce courage and loyalty. And today, they badly need our help. Their wild nature is beautifully captured in a new National Geographic film entitled The Last Lions, now showing in selected cities.
The story follows a single lioness fighting to defend her cubs as they struggle to survive in the Okavango Delta wetlands of Botswana. This film, created by Beverly and Dereck Joubert, reminds us that even lions live on a knife’s edge, and the threats to them are as severe as they’ve ever been.
It’s not just the lions in the Okavango Delta that face such threats. There are people who poison lions for predator control purposes. And while that poisoning is appalling and unacceptable, it’s even more infuriating that trophy hunters, mainly Americans, travel to Africa to kill these majestic animals and then bring home their heads, hides and other body parts.
For decades, the African lion population has been in a steady and dangerous decline. It has been nearly cut in half over the past 30 years. Lion habitat and prey species have diminished, forcing lions to retreat from much of their historic range. Although lions continue to live in 27 countries, many are in groups too small and isolated from other populations to survive.
During this period, the United States has emerged as the clear leader in importing trophies from sport-hunted lions. The number of lion trophies imported to the United States doubled from 1999 to 2008 (the latest year that statistics are available) — with parts of at least 3,600 wild African lions imported to our country.
This additional pressure — especially destructive for a social species, with tight family networks — is the last thing that lions need, especially with all of the threats they face. Some estimates put total lion numbers throughout Africa at just 23,000 — more than the number of tigers in the wild, but clearly in the danger zone for survival of the species.
Yesterday, the HSUS and our international arm, Humane Society International, as well as several other organizations, petitioned the United States Department of the Interior to list the African lion as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Listing the African lion as endangered would significantly benefit this iconic animal by prohibiting the importation of African lion trophies into the United States, unless it serves a demonstrable conservation purpose.
The Department has 90 days to decide if it will move forward with our petition. Please take a moment today to sign onto a letter of support that we will send to the Department once it opens a public comment period.
It’s not too late to save the magnificent African lion, but we must act now. And that’s exactly what we did by filing this petition.
Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond via SXC