Cecil may be roaring from heaven that other lions throughout Africa, including members of his former pride, may not experience his horrible fate, thanks to a federal rule that goes into effect today. The rule stipulates that American hunters who travel to Africa to hunt down lions can no longer freely bring their trophies back home. It is expected to produce a dramatic decline in the number of lion trophies imported into the country each year – from 727 in 2014 to perhaps fewer than 20 this year. We hope it will also put the lid on the cruel canned lion hunting industry in South Africa that largely serves U.S. trophy hunters.
The federal rule, which lists African lions as threatened or endangered, has been in the works for years, but had a spotlight thrown on it when a Minnesota dentist killed Cecil last year after baiting him out of the confines of a national park. The barbaric killing generated a hue and cry among so many Americans who had been long unaware of the globe-trotting expeditions of American trophy hunters out to slay the biggest and rarest African animals. Over the past 10 years, American hunters have killed 5,552 African lions and imported their parts as trophies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the rule on December 21, but it takes formal effect today. Anyone wanting to import lion parts has to first get a permit from the FWS, which will only grant one if it finds that the killing enhances the survival of wild lions — a standard the agency has said will be tough to meet. FWS has also indicated that killing captive-bred lions does nothing to enhance the survival of wild lions — a move that we hope will forever end the South African canned lion hunting industry because Americans make up about 90 percent of their clientele. In 2014 alone, trophies of 367 captive lions were imported to the United States.
There has been good progress in recent years against trophy hunting of rare animals: in addition to the new lion rule, the United States has suspended elephant trophy imports from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Last year, Australia and France banned all lion trophy imports. Forty-five major airlines have banned the transport of some or all types of hunting trophies. Hotels set to host trophy-hunting conventions and musicians scheduled to perform at these conventions have pulled out.
Yet lions and elephants are but two of the hundreds of different kinds of animals that America’s trophy hunters covet. Our research shows that between 2005 and 2014, more than 1.2 million trophies of over 1,200 different kinds of animals were imported into the United States. Trophy hunting advocacy organizations like Safari Club International (SCI) continue to offer opportunities for their members to compete with other hunters to earn awards for killing the largest or most types of animals, and American hunters cover the globe to track down and slaughter the world’s most magnificent animals, from lions to elephants to rhinos to bears. The rarer, the better.
This week, a key U.S. Senate committee passed legislation to benefit SCI, with provisions to allow their members to import polar bear trophies into the United States and to slay hundreds of wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming. The bill also contains a provision to block a final rulemaking action by FWS to stop the baiting of brown bears and the slaying of wolves on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.
In February, at the SCI’s annual convention in Las Vegas, hundreds of hunts will be auctioned off. These include hunts of rare animals throughout the world and hunts of wild animals in fenced enclosures. The celebration of killing, and commercial gathering place for the vendors of this shadowy subculture, is SCI’s largest fundraiser, earning the group $14.7 million in 2014 – money it uses to fight animal protection measures around the world.
Last week, I wrote to the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs to urge them to make the humane and profitable decision to publicly oppose Las Vegas hosting this and future SCI conventions. It’s time everywhere to raise the decibel level and to close out the era of trophy hunting of the world’s most magnificent creatures.