Washington: The Obama administration is expected to extend Endangered Species Act protections for two breeds of lions, in response to a large decline in their numbers in Africa over the past two decades.
The listings are to be announced today and include an order that appears to touch on circumstances surrounding the killing of a well-known lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe earlier this year.
The order states that the Fish and Wildlife Service will deny a permit to import a sport-hunted lion to anyone who has been convicted or pleaded guilty to violating federal or state wildlife laws.
Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil with a bow and arrow, had pleaded guilty in 2008 to making false statements to the Fish and Wildlife Service about a black bear fatally shot in western Wisconsin outside an authorisedhunting zone.
The Fish and Wildlife Service cautioned against linking the order with Cecil's death, describing the action instead as a redoubling of efforts to ensure that violators of wildlife laws don't reap future benefits from importing wildlife and wildlife products.
The administration signalled it would protect lions in Africa long before Cecil's case caught the public's attention.
The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule in October 2014 to list the African lion as threatened. After getting feedback, the agency revised its findings. It determined that two subspecies of lions live in Africa.
One group, found primarily in western and central countries, is more genetically related to the Asiatic lion. Only about 1,400 remain in Africa and India. The agency is listing that subspecies as endangered, meaning it risks extinction.
A second subspecies, numbering between 17,000 and 19,000 and found across southern and eastern Africa, will be listed as threatened.
The Endangered Species Act requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to list species as endangered or threatened regardless of the country where they live.
"If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it's up to all of us not just the people of Africa and India to take action," said Dan Ashe, the agency's director.