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Conservation Risks and Threats to the Lion

Statement of Adam M. Roberts, Executive Vice President, Born Free USA, on the Petition to List the African Lion as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act

Published 03/01/11

Good morning. My name is Adam Roberts and I am the executive vice president of Born Free USA, based here in Washington, D.C. I am speaking to you on behalf of both Born Free USA and our counterpart in England, the Born Free Foundation.

With offices and projects in Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Malawi, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and elsewhere across the African continent, we maintain a widespread and determined effort to protect lions in their natural habitat. Together, the global Born Free team’s compassionate conservation mission is to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.

The African lion is in danger. With a population decline of nearly 50 percent since 1980, the continent-wide population now stands at fewer than 40,000 individuals, and may be as low as 23,000. The time to act is now.

As is all too often the case, the commercialization of wildlife puts pressure on wild animal populations from which they may never recover. Consider the tiger, slaughtered for its coveted parts and the products made from them. At the turn of the 20th century numbers stood at a robust 100,000. Today, fewer than 4,000 wild tigers may be facing the inevitable — extinction.

Lions, too, face myriad assaults in the wild. You will hear from my colleague Jeff Flocken and others, specifically and in detail, about the dramatic impact of trophy hunting on wild lions. But the petition we are collectively submitting to the Department of the Interior today requesting endangered status for the African lion under the ESA reveals a range of additional conservation risks to the species throughout significant portions of its range.

The African lion is in danger of losing the land it requires in order to thrive: the increase in sub-Saharan Africa’s human population (from 518 million in 1990 to an estimated 1.75 billion by 2050) and the consequent increasing competition for available habitat and natural resources, together with agricultural development and livestock grazing, and desertification — all conspire to reduce the area available to lion prides and, indeed, the lions’ prey as well.

The African lion is in danger from a range of diseases including canine distemper virus (CDV), feline immunodeficiency virus and bovine tuberculosis.

The African lion is in danger from the use of the animals’ parts in the bushmeat and traditional medicine trade. A Born Free investigation into the use of lions in traditional medicine in Nigeria, for example, discovered that lions are killed for their fat, meat, bones, teeth, lungs, skin, veins, eyes, heart, liver, penis, legs, throat, blood, saliva, nose and brain, all to treat a range of ailments — from broken bones to joint pain to erectile dysfunction to ear problems.

The African lion is in danger from retaliatory killings — including by gruesome poisoning — often as a consequence of predation on livestock. To give but one restricted example, at least 22 lions were killed by spearing and poisoning around Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2009-2010 following an increase in the killing of livestock by lions in the area. Born Free is working on the ground in Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service, building lion-proof bomas as a way of reducing lion-livestock related conflict — but much more work is needed to prevent these retaliatory killings.

Add to all of these threats widespread and frequently unsustainable trophy hunting and commercial trade in lion parts, and there is no way to consider the African lion as anything but endangered.

As our name implies, we are part of the robust legacy of George and Joy Adamson; we are inspired by Joy’s book, “Born Free,” published now more than 50 years ago, and the iconic film “Born Free” that followed, both of which changed how the world looks at these beautiful creatures.

George Adamson said, when talking about his last home, the lion stronghold of Kora in northeastern Kenya: “Who will now care for the animals in the reserve? ... Who will raise their voices when mine is carried away on the wind?" George knew a thing or two about lions. He knew how precarious their existence would be if their protection was neglected. He knew that it would take the concerted voices of many to ensure that lions across Africa had a future.

Were he here today I know he would have not only applauded this petition, but he would have challenged each and every one of us to do all we can to save the African lion from being wiped out across so much of its range. At the very least, he would have demanded that the United States government do all it could to prevent the further decline of the African lion and, as a measure that lies uniquely within its power, grant the species endangered status under the ESA.

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