Researchers estimate that only about 20,000 lions remain in Africa and face extinction in the next twenty to thirty years.
The situation is even bleaker for the West African lions. Their numbers are dangerously low, with only about 250 adults occupying less than one percent of their historic range.
In a report published in nature today, Scientists warn that without major conservation efforts, these lions could disappear from West Africa within the next five years.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates trophy hunting and maintains that it has a legitimate role to play on conservation. U.S. hunters are required to purchase permits from host countries to kill specific species as well a U.S. permit to import the “trophies” or animal parts back into the United States.
In 2015, U.S.F.W.S. added two subspecies of the African lion ( P. l. leo and P. I. melanochaita) to the Endangered Species Act. U.S. hunters are not permitted to bring their parts into the United States.
“Canned” hunting is even more controversial. In most cases, these animals are captive-bred, and the cubs are often raised in petting zoos. As a result, many are tamed. When they are adults, they are taken from the zoo and often placed in a fenced-in area to be killed by a hunter, who then imports their parts – or trophies – back to their homeland.
The name, “canned hunting,” stems from the fact that the hunter is guaranteed a kill; subsequently, the hunt is “canned.”
Hunters come from all parts of the world, but the United States appears to be the largest contributor, “killing over 60% of all African lions killed for sport in Africa.”
Many hunters defend trophy hunting by claiming it is part of conservation and does not threaten the survival of the species. However, Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare does not agree.
He points to studies, which have “shown in areas where there has been the most intense sport hunting, there have been the steepest declines of lions in those populations. Lions have a unique social pattern and structure, where if you were to kill the largest dominant male, it disrupts the whole pride and can result in deaths of other males when a new male comes in to take over.