Trophy Hunting as a Conservation Tool

For decades, hunting has been an important tool for U.S. wildlife managers, helping to protect and restore dozens of native wildlife populations from elk to ducks, and mule deer to wild turkeys. American hunters make up the largest proportion of people who hunt overseas, placing our nation in a key role to support science-based, well-managed hunting programs abroad. 

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted to protect all lions under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) while acknowledging that sport hunting could play a significant role in their conservation. Our nation has an obligation under the ESA to make sure U.S. hunters are contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild by participating in hunting programs that provide a clear conservation benefit and contribute to the long-term survival of the species in the wild.  

Two subspecies of lion are designated under the Endangered Species Act:

  • Panthera leo leo - listed as Endangered.
  • Panthera leo melanochaita - listed as Threatened, with a 4(d) rule that establishes a permitting requirement that ensures that hunting contributes to the survival of the species in the wild.

Please refer to the Endangered Species web page for additional information on these listings, including a range map for each subspecies.

How does the Service decide whether to allow the import of a lion sport-hunted trophy?

To determine whether to allow imports of sport-hunted lion trophies, the Service considers factors such as the biological needs of the species; possible threats to the populations; current population estimates; management programs; legal protection (including hunting regulations and any applicable quotas); local community involvement; and, if any funds are generated by the import, how those funds are used for conservation. The Service will allow imports from countries that have well-managed hunting programs that are contributing to conservation of lions in the wild.  We hope that these approvals will encourage other countries to strengthen their lion conservation efforts.

The Service has been working to obtain and evaluate information on the management and conservation of lions in range countries. Based on this information, we are making country-level decisions on whether permitting the import of sport-hunted lion trophies may enhance the survival of the species in the wild (see table below). However, the Service will continue to review each application on a case-by-case basis and each application will need to meet all other applicable permitting requirements before import may be authorized.

Country status for import of lion trophies*



Under Review

Not Approved to Date

Applies to Lions Hunted











South Africa: Wild Lions




January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2019

South Africa: Wild-Managed Lions




January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2019

South Africa: Captive Lions




until new information is received










January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018





January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2018

*IMPORTANT: Applications will continue to be accepted and reviewed from all countries.  Findings may be reconsidered if new information is received. We will consider additional information from the country, the individual hunter, or other interested parties on how the import of a sport-hunted lion from that country enhances the survival of lions in the wild.  All applications are reviewed on a case-by case basis and must meet all other applicable permitting requirements.

Ready to Apply?

There are several steps that you need to take when applying to import your sport-hunted lion trophy. We recommend planning ahead and applying before you book your hunting trip to ensure that the necessary permits can be obtained.

Import Permit: For those countries that are "approved", as listed in the table above, we are generally able to process permit applications within 45 to 60 days from the time of application. For countries where import is "under review", or "not approved to date", processing permit applications will take additional time so that we may work with these countries and others to obtain the information needed.  

Export Permit: All lions in Africa are also listed in Appendix II of CITES and a CITES export permit is required from the country where the trophy is taken. Contact the CITES authorities in that country for additional information and instruction.

Import Clearance Procedures: Most hunting trophies imported from Africa must come through a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated port. For additional information, please refer to guidance from the Service's Office of Law Enforcement.