A proposed Act could prevent U.S. citizens from killing and selling African lions across the country or international borders. Reuters

A U.S. government agency has proposed a new rule that would list the African lion under the nation’s Endangered Species Act, or ESA. The move follows an analysis by the federal agency, which found that African lions are in danger of extinction in the near future.

If approved, the new law will prohibit the killing or hunting of captive lions in the U.S. without a permit. The law will also ban the sale of lions or lion parts inside the country or across international borders. However, U.S.-based hunters would still be allowed to import lions killed for sport in Africa as trophies.

“The African lion – a symbol of majesty, courage and strength – faces serious threats to its long-term survival,” Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “Listing it as a threatened species will bring the full protections of U.S. law to lion conservation, allowing us to strengthen enforcement and monitoring of imports and international trade.”

While sport hunting is not currently considered a major threat to the species, habitat loss, a lack of prey and increasing conflict with humans are to blame for the decline in the numbers of African lions, whose numbers have dropped by two-thirds since the 1980s, according to the report. There were 76,000 lions in Africa in 1980, but that number has declined to about 30,000 today, National Geographic reported, citing the agency.

Additionally, the wildlife service has also proposed a rule under the ESA, which will allow importing lions hunted for sport in Africa, provided that hunters get permits from countries with a “scientifically sound management plan for African lions.”

“By providing incentives through the permitting process to countries and individuals who are actively contributing to lion conservation, the Service will be able to leverage a greater level of conservation than may otherwise be available,” Ashe said in the statement.

The proposed listing of African lions as an endangered species is “a valuable opportunity to further strengthen ties between the U.S. and African lion-range countries and governments,” Luke Dollar, a conservation scientist and head of National Geographic's Big Cats Initiative, said in a statement.

The public will have 90 days, starting Oct. 29, to comment on the proposed listing on the agency’s website.