Last week, a three year review of the status of the African lion was concluded and reported at the 27th Meeting of the Animals Committee, the scientific body of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Namibia and Kenya led the status review and compiled the best available science from African governments, lion researchers, and an international database that monitors trade in all threatened and endangered plants and wildlife controlled by CITES.
Based on the best available biological and trade information, the conclusions of the report were that African lions were appropriately listed by CITES and that further restriction of trade was not warranted. In CITES lingo, lions are to stay in “Appendix II” (commercial trade allowed but regulated with permits) and should not be listed in “Appendix I” (commercial trade not allowed; specific exemptions regulated with permits).
Additional conclusions of the status review were that habitat loss and retaliatory killings by humans were the leading threats to lions, not international trade. Habitat loss explains significant declines of lions in West and Central Africa; however, 70% of Africa’s lions live in areas where the habitat is well protected by national laws. Also of note, lion numbers and their habitat generally are stable or increasing across East and Southern Africa. These conclusions were submitted for adoption by the Animals Committee.
The Animals Committee, looking at the big picture for lions, likely would have adopted the conclusions. However, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported new information on African lions that strongly influenced the outcome.
Although IUCN provided no papers, peer reviewed publications, or validated statistics, they orally reported two important pieces of information. First, IUCN was completing a revised assessment of big cats and would have new scientific information available for African lions in the next year. Second, IUCN believes that lions living in West and Central Africa are genetically identical to the Asiatic lion, Panthera persicus, which is a different subspecies from the African lion, Panthera leo.
The Animals Committee decided to wait for this new information before concluding the status review on lions. Namibia and Kenya now have another year to update their status review before it is discussed by the 28th Meeting of the Animals Committee. They will consider the new information that is expected from IUCN later this year, assess whether this information is credible, and revise their conclusions as necessary.
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