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lionThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a statement yesterday proposing the African Lion receive Endangered Species Act protection as a Threatened species. The agency said it believes the species is in danger of extinction “in the foreseeable future.” 

The agency cited three main threats to the existence of the African Lion: habitat loss, loss of prey base and increased human-lion contact/conflict. The African Lion is already listed as a species vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN cites retaliatory killings by farmers whose livestock are preyed upon by African Lions as a significant cause for increased human-lion conflict.

In the agency’s official statement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said, “The African lion – a symbol of majesty, courage and strength – faces serious threats to its long-term survival. Listing it as a threatened species will bring the full protections of U.S. law to lion conservation, allowing us to strengthen enforcement and monitoring of imports and international trade.”

As John Platt notes in a blog for Scientific American, the total population of African Lions is now 34,000, a 50 percent decrease from 30 years ago. Currently, African Lions are technically still found across a large range of territory in Africa, but 70 percent of the species population is concentrated within ten major “strongholds.” Dan Ashe cautions that the lions could face extinction by 2050.

While Endanged Species Act protection would not prohibit American citizens from hunting the African Lion, it would require application for a special permit. “By providing incentives through the permitting process to countries and individuals who are actively contributing to lion conservation, the Service will be able to leverage a greater level of conservation than may otherwise be available,” Ashe said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is opening the decision up to public comment for 90 days starting on October 29.

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