WASHINGTON – A new poll found that 70.4 percent of Americans would pay to go on an African safari to view lions, whereas only 6.6 percent of Americans would pay to hunt lions. With travel and tourism in African lion range countries generating $65.8 billion in 2011 and projected to reach $69.6 billion in 2012 according to the World Travel & Tourism Council, the region could suffer fiscally if there are no lions for tourists to view.
“Americans would much prefer to point and shoot a camera at a lion rather than a gun,” said Jeff Flocken, D.C. Office Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW; www.ifaw.org), which commissioned the poll. “More than 95 percent of Americans are opposed to hunting any species in danger of extinction—a problem the African lion is currently facing.”
According to leading scientists, the population and range of the African lion are in alarming decline. Faced with mounting threats including retaliatory killings, loss of habitat, over-exploitation by recreational trophy hunters and commercial trade, lion populations have dropped by at least 48.5 percent over the past two decades, with fewer than 30,000 African lions thought to remain today in the wild. Given this data, in March, IFAW and a coalition of wildlife groups including Humane Society of the United States/Humane Society International and Born Free USA/Born Free Foundation submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Listing the African lion as Endangered would generally prohibit the import of lion trophies into the United States and stop imports into the country of commercially traded lions and lion parts that do not benefit lions in the wild. According to the poll, 89.8 percent of Americans support the U.S. government in taking actions to prevent trophy hunting of African lions endangered with extinction and 83.4 percent believe that the U.S. government should support international efforts to end the commercial trade of lion products.
“Despite such strong support in the U.S. for conserving lions, over half of all hunted African lion trophies come to the U.S., and over half of all commercial trade in lion parts occurs here,” added Flocken. “The African lion is quickly being wiped off our planet, yet some Americans still hunt this beautiful animal for fun. These poll results offer reassurance that the overwhelming majority of American people believe the species needs to be protected and that the senseless killing must end.”
“Hunting is a sport, for recreation, fun and entertainment. Except, unlike tennis or golf, it involves the death of animals. While the ethics of that is questionable in itself, what is certain is that we cannot be indulging ourselves by shooting other species while they are in decline. Declining numbers are the precursor to threat and then to extinction. Why wait until we can’t do anything to avoid that coming train?” said Dereck Joubert, National Geographic Explorer in Residence, founder of the Big Cats Initiative and writer and director of The Last Lion. “There is a lot of smoke and confusion about hunting being all about conservation. Step back and think that through. It’s a sport and thankfully, as this survey shows, the vast majority of people now get that.”