WASHINGTON — Barely six months after the killing of Cecil the Lion with a bow and arrow in Zimbabwe by a U.S. hunter caused international outrage, President Barack Obama will on Monday introduce a law that reclassifies the protection status of lions and clamps down on the importation of certain sport-hunted lions, according to news reports.
The response by members of the anti-hunting fraternity on social media has been largely positive, although many say they look forward to the day a total ban on lion hunting is introduced. Conservation groups first approached the U.S. five years ago to classify the lion as endangered, news reports note.
Two species of lion will be protected. The one – of which only 1,400 remain in Africa and India, and is more genetically related to the Asiatic lion – will be listed as endangered, meaning it risks extinction. The second, numbering between 17,000 and 19,000 and found across southern and eastern Africa, will be listed as threatened.
Both designations, the agency said, will result in stricter criteria for the import of live lions and lion parts, like heads, paws or skins, news reports said. Trophies from countries where lions are endangered will be “generally prohibited,” except in very limited circumstances, the agency said.
Trophies can still be imported from countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa as long as they met the standards set under the special rule and the animals were killed legally, according to news reports.
The order will extend the Endangered Species Act, stating that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will deny a permit to import a sport-hunted lion to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to violating federal or state wildlife laws. It will also apparently encourage countries to regulate sport hunting of lions in ways that promote conservation.
The USFWS cautioned against linking the order with Cecil’s death, describing the action instead as a redoubling of efforts to ensure that violators of wildlife laws don’t reap future benefits from importing wildlife and wildlife products.
Cecil’s killer, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer, had apparently pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the USFWS about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorized hunting zone, news reports said.
“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us — not just the people of Africa and India — to take action,” the agency’s director Dan Ashe was quoted as saying.