This article looks at the current international regime that pertains to the African lion, a species that needs adequate protection across its range (a range that does not adhere to state boundaries). This analysis comes at a time when threats such as habitat and prey loss, retaliatory killing, trophy hunting and trade, are all impacting the remaining populations of African lions. The species is in danger of rapid population decline and possible extinction in the near future. Two decades ago there was an abundance of African lions, roughly 100 000, on the continent. But at present there are less than 32 000, while some believe there to be as little as 15 000 left. This decline is mainly due to the threats noted above.
African lions are currently listed as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. This listing is being contested by commentators who believe that the species now requires an "endangered" status. African lion populations, and the threats to the species, extend across state boundaries. Therefore, international law is of particular importance in providing conservation and protection measures to the species. Creating conservation obligations at a global level allows for more uniform action, implementation and enforcement of legislation at regional and local levels.
Therefore this article looks at each threat to African lion populations in detail and then assesses the international legal regime pertaining to each of these threats, and whether that regime is adequate. The Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance are but some of the international instruments that are analysed. This article outlines the arguments that the international legal framework is not acceptable for the protection of the species, and addresses both the positive and negative aspects of this regime.
It is found that the international legal regime for the African lion is in fact not effective in achieving the protection and survival of the species. Some changes are recommended, and the best way forward through an international legal lens is outlined. The security and viability of the African lion is uncertain, and legal protection of the species needs to be clear to start ensuring their survival in the future. With the increase in threats to the species and African lions already regionally endangered in some parts of Africa, it is obvious that some legal changes need to be made to ensure greater protection of the African lion at an international level.