Thursday, December 24, 2015

Yes, there are lions in India. Here’s why the U.S. is protecting both them and their African kin

Yes, there are lions in India. Here's why the U.S. is protecting both them and their African kin

The Woshinton Post
The mighty African lion that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed as threatened and endangered on Monday goes by many names — the king of the beasts, Leo of the zodiac, so royal that that it doesn't just live in families — it lives in prides.

Yet the agency's action also shields another cat, the Asiatic lion, that's far less known or heralded. Unlike its sub-Saharan relatives, which are studied often by wildlife biologists and filmed relentlessly for TV wildlife shows, the few Asian lions that mostly roam the Indian state of Gujarat, in and around the Gir Forest, barely get a mention.

Estimates put their numbers at only about 500 in the forest and a small section of north Africa. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a group devoted to the protection of wild flora and fauna, listed them as critically endangered in 2000 and pegged the number of adults at only 175 eight years later. They are considerably worse off than east and southern Africa's lions, having been hunted almost to extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries.

[2 sub-species of lion will be added to the endangered list, activists say]

African lions, which through much of the last century roamed in the hundreds of thousands, now number about 20,000. They've long been beset by a mixed cocktail of issues.

In its announcement, Fish and Wildlife labeled the lions in India and west and central Africa as endangered and those in east and southern Africa as threatened.

Africa's population explosion is causing humans to expand into their range. Many of those people kill animals to sell as bush meat, reducing the wild prey that lions need to survive. When the lions instead begin preying on cattle, they're killed.

And the final issue: Governments promote lion hunting in exchange for lucrative permits that are supposed to contribute funds to programs meant to help conserve the species.  Under an agreement with the United Nations and member states, African governments such as Zimbabwe allow hunting with permits that cost up to $300,000. American hunters pay extra for a permit to import the slain animal's head into the United States as a trophy.

But if preservation is the goal, Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe said Monday, the programs have failed and need "to be held to a much higher standard." The agency drew a bead on both practices by listing African and Asiatic lions as threatened or endangered, depending on their location, under the Endangered Species Act. The action will take effect in late January.

As part of the listing, Ashe said, the agency will place more scrutiny on how African nations that allow hunting use permit fees that are supposed to be spent on wildlife conservation. Fish and Wildlife vowed to determine "that all the revenue is transparent so we can be assured that these revenues aren't contributing to some kind of corruption in the range states that distracts from management."

That statement aligns with charges from at least one animal rights group, the Humane Society International, that there's no way of knowing what happens to the bounty governments get for the slaughter of not only lions, but elephants and rhinoceros, two others species that have undergone steep population declines resulting from poaching recently and hunting historically.

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