In a major win for lions, on Monday the Obama administration proposed listing the African lion as a threatened species. This move is aimed at protecting this magnificent species from the illegal wildlife trade, as well as from the exotic meat trade. The bizarre practice of  consuming lion meat has been noted in several U.S. restaurants. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has spoken out against at least ten American restaurants that serve lion meat on their menus since 2010. At least one of them boasts serving lion tacos, others serve this animal’s flesh as steak.

Surprisingly, there are no current regulations that prevent the sale or transport of lion or lion parts in the U.S. market. Populations of wild lions have fallen drastically in the past two decades. Up to 76,000 lions roamed Africa in 1980, and according to Fish and Wildlife Services, that has dwindled to approximately 35,000 today.

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Big game and trophy hunting is not helping lion numbers. Unsustainable levels of hunting on the lion’s typical prey is also causing problem for these cats. Their populations are declining primarily due to human encroachment on their habitat. Lions are quickly running out of food and space. If that wasn’t enough, they have to deal with the exotic meat trade. The human population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to almost double by 2050, meaning the potential listing of lions as threatened may be the change desperately needed to protect these big cats from looming extinction.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Dan Ashe, is working diligently on getting this listing approved. “Many wild populations continue to decrease in size, and the subspecies is estimated to occupy less than 22 percent of its historical range,” he says. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to providing the necessary protections for imperiled species, both at home and abroad, and this proposal, if finalized, will help us do that.”

We’re in danger of losing many African species. Thankfully attention is being brought to many of these animals and we have time to work and protect them. Losing lions to extinction would be devastating on so many levels, especially if the consumption of lion meat contributes to it!

It is now or never to save these magnificent cats.

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Image source: TambakoTheJaguar/Flickr