The United States government (US Fish and Wildlife Services) accepted the proposal of IUCN for a new classification of lion subspecies. The new subspecies are: Panthera leo leo for lions in West and Central Africa and India and Panthera leo melanochaita for lions in East and southern Africa. This has consequences for the protection status of wild lion populations.
A taxonomic working group of the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) advised to reclassify lions (Panthera leo) in two subspecies: Panthera leo leo and Panthera leo melanochaita. The first subspecies encompasses lions in West and Central Africa plus lions in India. The second subspecies includes lions in East and southern Africa. The subspecies are separated from each other by the African Rift Valley and the Central African rainforest. The old classification was Panthera leo leo for lions in Africa and Panthera leo persica for lions in India. As genetic research showed that lions in West and Central Africa are closer related to Asiatic lions than their East and southern counterparts, this reclassification was proposed.
Consequences in US
The US accepted the advice and implemented it in her Endangered Species Act. If the advice is accepted internationally, it has considerable consequences for the protection status of lions; it becomes stricter. Lions in West and Central Africa are listed as Endangered, just as Asiatic lions. Lions in East and southern Africa are listed as Vulnerable.
The regulation on lion hunting trophies is also tightened. Due to their higher protection status it becomes (nearly) impossible to import hunting trophies from West and Central Africa into the US. Due to the implementation of a new permitting system, importing hunting trophies from East and southern African lions will become more difficult as well.
What is our view?
Leo Foundation approves of the new classification. By decreasing pressure of trophy hunting and the stricter protection status we expect more international attention for conservation of lion populations in West and Central Africa, resulting in more conservation funds allocated to their need. We hope to contribute our share through our projects in West and Central Africa.