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U.S. Takes Steps To Protect Two Breeds Of African Lion

An undated photo of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has placed one breed of African lions on its endangered species list, a move aimed at discouraging hunting of the animals at a time when their numbers are dwindling.

A second breed of lion will be designated as threatened, the agency said today.

"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 the service. He added:

"If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us — not just the people of Africa and India — to take action."

The designation comes less than six months after Cecil the lion was lured from a nature preserve in Zimbabwe and killed, an act that generated outrage around the world. The killing was carried out by Walter Palmer, a Minnesota dentist and big-game hunter, who was never charged in the matter.

The breed listed as endangered is Panthera leo leo, of which only about 1,400 remain. Nine hundred are in Africa, the rest in India, the agency said.

"With an endangered listing, imports of P. l. 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 second breed, Panthera leo melanochaita, is more numerous, with 17,000 to 19,000 in southern and eastern Africa, the service said.

Both designations will result in stricter criteria for the import of live lions and lion parts, like heads, paws or skins, the agency said. The service also will regulate the import of sport-hunting trophies, it added:

"The process will ensure that imported specimens are legally obtained in range countries as part of a scientifically sound management program that benefits the subspecies in the wild."

As the Two-Way reported in October, "Lions are rapidly disappearing in large parts of Africa, and their population could be reduced by half outside protected areas over the next two decades."

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the U.S., called the agency's decision "one of the most consequential to come out of the FWS in years" and said it would "dramatically change the equation for American trophy hunters who have been killing animals by the hundreds each year for their parts":

"This decision puts the United States in a much stronger position to play a productive role in the conservation of lions, who have suffered a 60 percent population decline across much of Africa and now number fewer than 30,000 due to habitat loss and human-caused killing.

"American trophy hunters are directly responsible for slaughtering at least 5,647 lions in the last 10 years, according to import data we've mined from the FWS. And a robust domestic market in lion parts, such as hides sold as rugs, further threatens their continued existence."

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