Kenya is seeking a global ban on trade in the body parts of lions, which hunters take as trophies. Kenyan wildlife officials say Africa's lions, under threat from hunters and lack of habitat, need stronger international protection.
The lion is known as the king of the jungle, but Kenyan officials say he should not be king of the marketplace, too.
For African countries with lion populations, the sale of big game hunting licenses brings in millions of dollars. Kenya's southern neighbor Tanzania nets as much as $4 million U.S. dollars a year from hunting licenses. There, a 21-day hunting safari costs roughly $35,000, significantly more than a typical tourist would spend in the same three-week period just to look at the animals.
The Kenya Wildlife Service says in the last 30 years, the lion population in Africa has fallen from 200,000 to under 40,000.
The African Wildlife Foundation says much of that decline is due to loss of habitat, disease and conflict between the animals and local communities. But a Foundation official says about five percent of lion deaths every year are caused by hunting, and the subsequent market in lion trophies, including claws, skins, teeth, eyes and heads.
Now, Kenya is pushing for a global ban on the sale of lion parts, with the aim of reducing the number of lions killed for sport or money every year.
A spokesman for the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Edward Indakwa, says Kenya will seek the ban at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, which meets next month in Bangkok.
"Our concern is just trade," he said. "We don't mind hunting for biological reasons or, for that matter, tourism. What we are concerned about is that if those trophies are sold across nations, then they could imperil populations of lions outside parks across Africa. We believe that if we can control that trade right now, and also work on the other trades that are imperiling the populations, then the lions will have chance."
Although lion hunting is banned in Kenya, many African countries allow regulated hunts. Besides Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia issue hunting licenses for big game, which includes lions.
Hunting lions in Asia is prohibited through a voluntary CITES treaty.
Wildlife authorities here in Kenya are hoping that the ban on trading in lion trophies will do for the lions what the global ban on ivory products is doing for African elephants, whose population is making a slow comeback.