The Lion Still Roars: After Cecil's Killing, the Prospect of Sweeping Reform

The reverberations from the early July slaying of Cecil the lion continue to be felt worldwide, with the news that authorities in Zimbabwe have charged the second of two men who guided Safari Club International member Walter Palmer’s illicit trophy kill just outside the borders of Hwange National Park. “Cecil was delivered to him like a pizza,” said the Hwange Lion Research Project’s Brent Stapelkamp, who took the last photo of Cecil alive, just a month before Palmer killed, skinned, and beheaded the lion with the assistance of hunting guide Theo Bronkhurst and game park owner Honest Ndlovu. We are still awaiting word on Zimbabwe’s request to extradite Walter Palmer, who was at the center of this scheme to kill Hwange National Park’s most famous lion, and if that happens, there will be some measure of justice for all three horsemen of the Hwange apocalypse.


We’re also urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize its proposed rule listing the African lion under the Endangered Species Act, as have dozens of members of Congress. We are hoping for final action from the agency soon, so that further imports of lion trophies will be restricted or banned from African nations.

Either way, the killers will have a hard time getting those trophies back home. Since the Cecil slaying, 38 airlines have committed to halting the shipping of the Africa Big Five. Delta, United, and American Airlines -- the big U.S.-based carriers with service to Africa -- are among the airlines to ban shipping lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo trophies. UPS this week announced a good, sound policy of not shipping shark fins, but we are still awaiting a declaration from that company on its policy concerning the hunting trophies, since four species of the Africa Big Five are listed, or about to be listed, as threatened with extinction under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has introduced a bill to ban all imports of trophies and parts from African lions and other at-risk species into the United States. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-TX, and Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX, have announced their intention to sponsor a bill to amend the Endangered Species Act to ban “all acts of senseless and perilous trophy killings.”  Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have introduced bills to restrict imports into their states.

Right now, there are 41 trophy hunters who, just like Walter Palmer, paid a fortune to kill an animal about to get listed under the Endangered Species Act, and want a waiver from Congress to display the heads and hides of the slain animals in their homes. In the case of the 41, they killed polar bears in northern Canada. We’re fighting their import-waiver effort not just as a symbolic act to deny these trophy hunters their ill-gotten gains, but to prevent the bum rush of trophy hunters into a foreign land whenever our federal government announces that it’s going to upgrade federal protections for a declining species and restrict imports.

Finally, there is the battle we’re waging in the marketplace of ideas. We’ve answered the self-serving reasoning of the trophy-hunting clan about the value of their activity to conservation, and more than ever, people see through their pay-to-slay reasoning. People realize that trophy killing undermines wildlife conservation, is no boon to national or regional economies anywhere, and should not be countenanced or encouraged by anyone. How can anyone possibly think it’s helpful to animals to kill a dominant lion in a pride with an arrow, or to slay a large-tusked elephant, or a mature rhino with a beautiful horn? For them, I guess, it diminishes the utter selfishness of the activity by concocting some far-fetched scenario where killing a creature somehow helps the grieving, surviving family members or pride or herd mates. It’s really a travesty to think anyone could buy this drivel.

When it comes to The HSUS and Humane Society International, we’re going to devote more resources, in the near and the long term, to fight this enterprise of globe-trotting trophy hunting of the rarest, most remarkable animals in the world. If you’re willing to stand with us, and to support our worldwide campaigns against trophy killing, I’m willing to make you this promise: Cecil won’t have died in vain.

Here’s how you can help fight trophy hunting:

Tell Congress to stop trophy hunting >

Ask the USFWS to finalize listing African lions under the Endangered Species Act >

Ask airlines to end the transport of hunting trophies >

Ask South African Airways to recommit to a ban on hunting trophies >

Tell UPS to ban the shipment of hunting trophies >

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Following Cecil Outrage, Senators Seek to Ban Imports of African Lion Trophies

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South Africa Wants to Kill Endangered Lions to Supply Chinese Demand for Parts

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