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Lions Gain Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Dec 31, 2015 12:36 PM EST
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To increase conservation efforts and crack down on illegal trophy hunting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has granted two lion subspecies - one native to India and central and western Africa, and the other to eastern and southern Africa - protection under the Endangered Species Act (EPA).

"The lion is one of the planet's most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage. If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us - not just the people of Africa and India - to take action," Service Director Dan Ashe said in a news release.

When assessing the status of the entire lion species, the service found these two subspecies qualify as endangered or threatened based on several factors, including habitat loss, loss of prey, human-lion conflicts, population declines, inadequate regulation and management of protected areas.

In addition to listing the lions under the EPA, Ashe issued a Director's Order that will make it tougher for those accused of violating wildlife laws to acquire permits and licensing for future activities, including importing sport-hunted trophies.

According to the conservation group Panthera, lion populations in Africa have drastically declined from more than 200,000 individuals a century ago, to nearly 20,000 surviving today. What's worse is lions are extinct in 26 African countries and have vanished from over 90 percent of their historic range, the group reports.

The decision to list lions under the EPA follows the death of Cecil - the famed Zimbabwean lion shot by an American dentist in July - and a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggesting half of Africa's lions are projected to disappear over the next two decades. Lions' upgraded protection under the EPA will go into effect on Jan. 22, 2016.

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