A breed of lion found in India and Africa has been placed in the endangered species list by the US in a bid to curb the “dramatic” decline of their population in the last two decades.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service said Panthera leo leo (a subspecies of lion) found in India and western and central Africa as endangered, and Panthera leo melanochaita located in eastern and southern Africa, will be listed as threatened species.
Certain kinds of the iconic big cats of west Africa and India are now considered endangered because they are in “dramatic decline”, the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.
“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” said Dan Ashe, director of US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it is up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action,” he said.
US Fish and Wildlife Service said the new scientific research have concluded that the western and central populations of African lion are more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. These lions are now considered the same subspecies, Pl leo.
“There are only about 1,400 of these lions remaining, 900 in 14 African populations and 523 in India. Considering the size and distribution of the populations, population trends and the severity of the threats, the service has found that this subspecies meets the definition of endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA),” a statement by the US Fish and Wildlife Service said.
The other subspecies of Pl melanochaita likely numbers between 17,000-19,000 and is found across southern and eastern Africa.
In the last 20 years, lion populations have declined by 43% due to habitat loss, loss of prey base and retaliatory killing of lions by a growing human population.
Coupled with inadequate financial and other resources for countries to effectively manage protected areas, the impact on lions in the wild has been substantial.
The order issued in this regard, which aligns with President Barack Obama’s National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking, will ensure that violators of wildlife laws are not subsequently granted permits for future wildlife-related activities, including the import of sport-hunted trophies.
With an endangered listing, imports of Pl leo will generally be prohibited, except in certain cases, such as when it can be found that the import will enhance the survival of the species.
The final lion rule will be published in the Federal Register on December 23, 2015, and will go into effect 30 days after publication on January 22, 2016.