Recent studies indicate that trophy hunting is impacting negatively on some lion populations, notably in Tanzania. In 2004 there was a proposal to list lions on CITES Appendix I and in 2011 animal-welfare groups petitioned the United States government to list lions as endangered under their Endangered Species Act. Such listings would likely curtail the trophy hunting of lions by limiting the import of lion trophies. Concurrent efforts are underway to encourage the European Union to ban lion trophy imports. We assessed the significance of lions to the financial viability of trophy hunting across five countries to help determine the financial impact and advisability of the proposed trade restrictions. Lion hunts attract the highest mean prices (US$24,000-US$71,000) of all trophy species. Lions generate 5-17% of gross trophy hunting income on national levels, the proportional significance highest in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. If lion hunting was effectively precluded, trophy hunting could potentially become financially unviable across at least 59,538 km(2) that could result in a concomitant loss of habitat. However, the loss of lion hunting could have other potentially broader negative impacts including reduction of competitiveness of wildlife-based land uses relative to ecologically unfavourable alternatives. Restrictions on lion hunting may also reduce tolerance for the species among communities where local people benefit from trophy hunting, and may reduce funds available for anti-poaching. If lion off-takes were reduced to recommended maximums (0.5/1000 km(2)), the loss of viability and reduction in profitability would be much lower than if lion hunting was stopped altogether (7,005 km(2)). We recommend that interventions focus on reducing off-takes to sustainable levels, implementing age-based regulations and improving governance of trophy hunting. Such measures could ensure sustainability, while retaining incentives for the conservation of lions and their habitat from hunting.