Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer caused an uproar when he killed Cecil the lion—and he may have expedited the latest Obama administration mandate. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is set to announce Monday that as of Jan. 22, lions in Africa will be protected under the Endangered Species Act, with lions in central and West Africa deemed an "endangered" species, while lions in southern and East Africa will be categorized as "threatened," the New York Times reports. And US hunters who want to bring back lion parts as "trophies" will need to get a permit from the wildlife agency, which will be issued only if they hunt a) legally, and b) in ways that meet conservation standards, per the Times. The new rules are likely to "dramatically change the equation for American trophy hunters who have been killing lions by the hundreds each year," Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the US Humane Society, said in a statement, per Time.
Although the US wildlife agency cites "newly available scientific information on the genetics and taxonomy of lions" for the sudden change, conservation groups have been lobbying for years to have lions designated as endangered, with a recent study noting the lion population in East, West, and central Africa may be halved over the next 20 years without intervention, per the Times. The drop has been linked to habitat loss, farmer and herder killings, and the decline of prey, but also to poorly regulated trophy hunting, both papers note. Some pro-hunting groups claim the stricter rules will actually harm lions, as they say money from legal sport hunting goes toward conservation in impoverished countries. But most conservation groups are applauding. "This is going to be a very exciting announcement for those who want to see greater protection for lions," an International Fund for Animal Welfare director tells the Washington Post. (A Zimbabwe native cheered Cecil's killing.)