Two lion subspecies from Africa are now on an endangered species list thanks to a new U.S. policy.
But it is not clear on whether the killing of Cecil the lion had any influence on this.
A U.S. agency on Monday listed two lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act, offering them legal protection that will make it harder for hunters to import trophies into the country, Reuters has reported.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed lions found mostly in West and Central Africa as "endangered" and lions in eastern and southern Africa as "threatened."
Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said it would withhold permits from violators.
Ashe said, “So it's been an exhaustive scientific and public process. But today because this is a pivotal point for the lion and I think our decision today recognizes that we are at up inflection point for lion if there is going to be something called a lion in the wild in the future, we have to take action today and the United States has always been a leader in conservation worldwide."
The measures, enacted under the world's most powerful animal protection law, will take effect in January 2016. They follow the extension of protection to African elephants and cheetahs. Once numbering in the thousands, the two groups of lions covered by the listing have been decimated by loss of prey and habitat and killings by hunters, including many from local communities.
North American Regional director Jeffrey Flocken, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), praised the decision. His organization co-authored the Petition to list African lions under the Endangered Species Act.
Flocken said, "So this is a fantastic decision. Lions are literally under the gun. They're thrown by habitat loss, loss of prey and retaliatory killings where they come into conflict with humans and they're threatened by trophy hunting being done unsustainably. That last threat is the one that we can address is one that Americans can change. Americans are responsible for over half of all lions kill in Africa every year for sport. If we can curb that number and bring it down well then that's saving more individual lions."
Zimbabwe and Burkina Faso are among some of the African countries that still allow tourists to hunt lions as a source of revenue and conservation efforts. But American dentist Walter Palmer sparked intense global controversy in July when he killed a rare black-maned lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe.
Hunters like Palmer regularly import salt-packed skulls and skins of lions into the United States. The U.S. though at the time of Cecil’s killing, the Fish & Wildlife Service said it was deeply concerned about the killing, a spokesperson for the agency denied that the new measures were linked to Cecil's killing, which is being investigated separately.
Americans reportedly make up around two-thirds of trophy hunters.
Apart from the Endangered Species Act, hunters are barred under America's Lacey Act from importing wildlife or parts of animals that have been illegally killed, transported or sold.