On July 1, 2015, an American dentist shot and killed a lion named Cecil on his quest for a trophy to bring back from Africa.
Cecil wasn’t just any lion, however. He was a very beautiful and very beloved lion, who just so happened to be part of a decade-long Oxford University study. The event sparked global public outrage and condemnation of the hunter.
While his death was a tragic loss, both for science and for the species, it brought serious attention to the practice of trophy hunting. In response to public uproar, many government agencies have been forced to take another look at their policies regarding trophy hunting and endangered species. In the wake of Cecil’s death, Dr. Goodall responded with the hope that this tragedy would open people’s eyes to the horrors of trophy hunting.
Now, a year later, Jane is renewing her support of Africa’s lions. She has recently signed a letter in support of placing all populations of the African lion (Panthera leo) under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The proposal was brought forth by nine African states that lie in core lion range, and the letter was signed by several prominent conservationists and scientists.
Moving to this listing would definitely mean good news for lions. Appendix 1 is reserved for the most endangered plants and animals, those threatened with extinction if action isn’t taken. The trade of these creatures is therefore subject to particularly strict regulation. In order to continue, hunting operations would be forced to demonstrate a certain level of sustainability by setting science-based quotas, establishing non-detriment findings, and requiring import and export permits for all trophies.
Lions certainly meet the biological requirements for a CITES Appendix 1 listing, as scientists have noted a 43% wild population reduction in just three lion generations. In certain regions, lion populations are now as low as 400 individuals, and they have disappeared altogether in 12 African countries. The few populations that are experiencing growth are in managed and fenced reserves, which limits their ability to contribute to overall species recovery.
Currently, lions are listed in Appendix II, along with all but a select few feline species. This listing allows a species to be traded commercially with only an export permit. A move to Appendix I would put them in the company of other critically endangered cats like leopards and tigers, and be a step in the right direction towards getting these animals the protection they need.
Global trade in lion trophies and lion parts for commercial purposes is unfortunately growing at a faster rate than the species can support. In response, several countries have taken matters into their own hands, with the Netherlands, Australia, and France having banned lion trophy imports altogether in an effort to reverse the species’ decline.
The annual meeting to discuss amendments to CITES will take place in September and October of this year. With the anniversary of Cecil’s death reminding us of our obligation to protect these animals, and Dr. Goodall’s voice strongly in support of this move, we will hopefully be able to place one more barrier between lions and extinction.