Two African lion subspecies will now be afforded protections under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced Monday afternoon.
Panthera leo leo, a subspecies with fewer than 1,500 individuals remaining throughout Africa and India, will be considered endangered. Per the Endangered Species Act, trophy hunters in the United States will no longer be able to import P. l. leo hunting trophies without a permit that will only be issued for "scientific purposes that benefit the species in the wild," the Service says.
The second subspecies, P. l. melanochaita, will be considered threatened. USFWS will establish a comprehensive program that will only issue permits for the import of P. l. melanochaita trophies from countries with scientifically grounded lion conservation programs.
There are still an estimated 17,000 P. l. melanochaita in the wild across southern and eastern Africa. The subspecies' population, however, more than halved between 1993 and 2014. Habitat degradation, dwindling populations of prey and conflict with humans have contributed to the decline of lions across the continent.
"The lion is one of the planet's most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage," USFWS Director Dan Ashe said. "If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us - not just the people of Africa and India - to take action."
The new rules will be published in the Federal Register on December 23, 2015, and will go into effect on January 22, 2016.
Article first appeared on Discovery's blog Dscovrd.