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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lawmakers Roar to Save the King of the Jungle

This week, a bipartisan group of 44 members of Congress led by U.S. Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the African lion under the Endangered Species Act. The congressional letter of support comes as part of the official 60-day comment period the agency opened after its preliminary positive finding that listing the African lion may be warranted, in response to a petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, The Fund for Animals, and other groups. More than 100,000 citizens have also voiced their support by submitting public comments.

LionFor decades, the African lion population has been in a steady and dangerous decline. It has been nearly cut in half over the past 30 years. Lion habitat and prey species have diminished, forcing lions to retreat from much of their historic range. Although lions continue to live in 27 countries, many are in groups too small and isolated from other populations to survive.

During this period, the United States has emerged as the clear leader in importing trophies from sport-hunted lions. The number of lion trophies imported to the United States doubled from 1999 to 2008—with parts of at least 3,600 wild African lions imported to our country. This additional pressure—especially destructive for a social species, with tight family networks—is the last thing that lions need, especially with all of the threats they face. Some estimates put total lion numbers throughout Africa at just 23,000—more than the number of tigers in the wild, but clearly in the danger zone for survival of the species.

As Rep. Moran said, “Based upon the latest scientific evidence, African lions are increasingly threatened with extinction in the wild. As the world’s leading importer of these iconic creatures, the U.S. must accept our share of the responsibility to preserve their future. Listing the African lion in the Endangered Species Act is an important first step to ensuring these vulnerable animals are protected.”

Rep. Blumenauer added, “The African lion population has decreased by over 50 percent during the past three decades. Due to habitat loss, hunting, disease and more, this animal is now in real danger of extinction. The United States has a long history of leading the way in global conservation efforts and should act swiftly to protect this treasured species.”

We are grateful to these lawmakers for leading the way and making their voices heard for these majestic big cats. As the Fish and Wildlife Service goes through its process of reviewing public comments and studying the science on the issue, we are hopeful that it will bring us one step closer toward protecting these creatures and stemming the tide of their decline.

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