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For Immediate Release: 03/01/11

Saving the King of the Jungle

Wildlife Advocates Seeking Protection for African Lions Under U.S. Endangered Species Act

Today, a coalition of wildlife groups — International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free USA, the Born Free Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife — filed a petition with the Department of Interior to list African lions as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The population and range of the African lion are in alarming decline. Over the past two decades, the number of African lions has declined by at least 48.5 percent as a result of retaliatory killings, loss of habitat and prey species, over-exploitation by recreational trophy hunters and commercial trade, disease and other human-caused and natural factors. Today, there are fewer than 40,000 African lions remaining — most of them in just a handful of countries. Of the remaining populations, two-thirds are neither protected nor viable over the long run.

“The African lion is facing an uncertain future at best. There is a real possibility that more African countries will lose their wild lions altogether if the current situation is not reversed,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “Currently, lions are not adequately protected by existing regulatory measures at national, regional or international levels. We need to take urgent measures to conserve the African lion before it’s too late.”

The petition documents that international trade in African lions and their parts, including trophy hunting, is playing a role in the reduction of the population. From 1998 through 2008, at least 7,445 wild lions were traded internationally, with the United States importing a minimum of 4,021. Additionally, 64 percent of the 5,663 wild lions traded internationally for recreational trophy hunting purposes were imported to the United States.

“The king of the jungle is heading toward extinction, and yet Americans continue to kill lions for sport,” said Jeff Flocken, IFAW’s office director in Washington, D.C. “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop.”

Despite the significant and continued declines in population and range, the number of lion trophies imported to the United States is increasing. In 2008, trophy imports to the United States were greater than any other year in the preceding decade and more than twice the number in 1999. Listing the African lion as endangered would generally prohibit the import of lion trophies into the United States, an essential step to reversing the current decline of the population. Moreover, the listing would stop imports of commercially traded lions and lion parts that do not benefit lions in the wild.

“The United States is the leading importer of lions and lion parts for commercial and recreational trade – this includes skulls, claws, hides, and live lions,” said Teresa Telecky, wildlife department director for The Humane Society of the United States. “Americans’ thirst for exotic goods and trophies to hang on their walls is driving lions to extinction. The African lion simply cannot endure this level of exploitation if their long-term survival is to be ensured.”

Protection under the ESA would also help raise global awareness to the plight of the African lion and may generate additional resources to tackle in-country threats such as poisoning, persecution and habitat loss that now confront wild lions.

“The U.S. government must recognize that African lions are in danger of extinction throughout a significant portion of their range, acknowledge our nation’s significant role in the lion’s fate and bring greater scrutiny to all factors contributing to the decline of lion populations,” said Bob Irvin, Defenders of Wildlife’s senior vice president for conservation programs. “The African lion is a vital cultural asset, a symbol of the world’s last great vestiges of wildness, and a critical part of healthy ecosystems that must be protected.”

The secretary of the Interior has 90 days to assess whether an endangered listing under the ESA may be warranted, 12 months to decide whether to propose listing and then another 12 months to make a final decision.

About the International Fund for Animal Welfare

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. (www.ifaw.org)

About Born Free USA

Born Free USA is a recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation, and education, Born Free USA leads campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to America the mission of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film Born Free: to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation. (bornfreeusa.org)

About the Born Free Foundation

The Born Free Foundation, based in England, is an international organization devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare. Born Free Foundation takes action worldwide to protect threatened species, stop individual animal suffering, and keep wildlife in the wild. Born Free helps hundreds of thousands of animals worldwide each year. (bornfree.org.uk)

About Defenders of Wildlife

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. (www.defenders.org)

About The Humane Society of the United States

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. (humanesociety.org)

About Humane Society International

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. (hsi.org)

Contact: Rodi Rosensweig (Born Free) (203) 270-8929 / publicrelations@bornfreeusa.org

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