King No More: The Tragic Plight of Lions in Africa

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Flocken and his allies want to see the African lion listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a US law designed to protect endangered animals. US citizens make up by far the largest number of trophy hunters. The lion currently has limited protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Americans are especially fond of bringing home stuffed lion heads, paws and tails from Africa. Other important importers include Germany, along with Spain and France. Lion parts are also sent to other countries from the United States. The animal's bones are prized in China to make "tiger wine," which the Chinese believe has healing properties, and are used as a replacement for tiger bones, which have now become rare.

According to the petition, the body parts of at least 5,660 killed lions were traded internationally between 1999 and 2008.

The consequences of hunting tourism are often fatal for the entire pride. Hunters covet the magnificent mane and therefore primarily target older, dominant males, which leads to a rise in deadly attacks within the pride. To sire their own offspring, other male lions kill the cubs of their former rival, and sometimes even the mothers, when they try to defend the cubs.

To avoid this additional killing of lions, trophy hunters must be taught to correctly estimate the age of their prey, says wildlife biologist Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. But his appeals apparently fall on deaf ears. "Mr. Lion," as the renowned lion expert is known, is not against hunting in principle, he says, but notes that quotas need to be drastically reduced.

A Disaster for Africa

If we don't act now, the African lion could become extinct, conservationists warn, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service appears to be taking them seriously. The agency is said to be reviewing the possibility of adding the lion to the ESA list, to the consternation of the African hunting and tourism industry. Such action could result in the loss of 60 percent of the trophy market, Alexander Songorwa, director of wildlife for Tanzania's tourism ministry, wrote in the New York Times. It would be a disaster for his country, he added.

At its convention in April, the organization Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) characterized efforts to list the lion under the ESA as "sabotage." The country's roughly 10,000 private farmers are proud of the "the tremendous growth in the South African wild animal industry," WRSA notes. The industry produces and offers what its trigger-happy customers covet: Kudu, buffalo, impala and other antelopes, and the more costly lions for well-heeled hunters.

Because they value tourists who prefer to shoot wildlife with their cameras over big-game hunters, lion countries Zambia and Botswana are now trying to save their main attraction. Although it generated $3 million (€2.3 million) in annual revenues, Zambia has now outlawed the hunting of lions and leopards. And in Botswana, the country's final hunting season has just begun.

Experts disagree over the best ways to help the beleaguered animal. Pimm stresses cooperation with local inhabitants, saying that they need to learn how to protect their herds more effectively, and that children should be taught how to behave around the predators while still in school.

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