American horror show: Trophies from canned lion hunts continue to flow into the U.S. despite ESA protection

By on November 27, 2017 with 13 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Our federal government illegally allowed U.S. trophy hunters to import at least 280 lion trophies from South Africa’s cruel captive lion breeding and killing facilities. It allowed body parts to come into the country in spite of a policy implemented at the beginning of last year that shooting and then importing these lions in fenced-in enclosures does not contribute to the conservation of the species and is therefore illegal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The HSUS made this alarming discovery about the massive influx of lion trophies from canned hunts after reviewing international trade data, raising concerns about how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is enforcing the ESA listing for lions, and also calling into question the agency’s entire approach to allowing trophy imports of species threatened with extinction.

Last week, President Trump announced he was putting on hold actions by the USFWS to clear the way for elephant and lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia. The president said that trophy hunting of “elephants and other animals” was, in his words, a “horror show” and he’d be “hard pressed” to change his mind on the issue. In short, he was emphatic that he was prepared to reject the agency’s decision to encourage more trophy hunting of the animals by allowing Americans to import elephant tusks and lion heads.

While the president is at it, he should look at the USFWS actions that are giving comfort to American hunters killing captive African lions in South Africa. While any trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species is outrageous on its face, it’s even more appalling that the animals are bred for shooting and are killed at point-blank range in enclosures from which they cannot run or escape. These same lions are also used for cub selfies, cub petting, and lion walks, and once their heads and manes are big enough to attract the interest of trophy hunters, they are offered up for shooting in a penned area.

According to the government of South Africa, private operators hold about 6,000 captive African lions in approximately 200 facilities where canned lion hunts sell for up to $20,000 each. Of the 1,052 trophies from captive lions traded internationally in 2015, Americans killed 686, and imported their body parts into the United States – about 65 percent of the total. Since American trophy hunters are the main clients of the canned lion trophy hunting businesses, we rejoiced when our petition to list the African lion under the ESA resulted in a moratorium on the import of trophies from captive lions effective January 22, 2016.

Based on the USFWS redesignating lions as “threatened with extinction,” there should have been no imports of captive lion hunting trophies from South Africa to the United States since January 22, 2016 (when the new legal protections were imposed). Instead, The HSUS has discovered, while reviewing data from the database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) for 2016, that there were at least 280 such imports.

Specifically, this data suggests that the USFWS is allowing hunters who killed captive lions prior to 2016 to abuse an exception to the import prohibition for so-called “pre-Act” wildlife. However, by statute this exception only applies to animals who were held in captivity before the date of ESA listing if such animals were not held “in the course of a commercial activity.” According to the government of South Africa, “captive lions are bred exclusively to generate money;” and the USFWS has issued a formal finding in agreement, stating that the lions are “bred for financial gain.” Indeed, in addition to captive hunting and cub petting (much like the nefarious cub petting industry we’re combating in the United States), South Africa recently approved the export of lion bones from these captive breeding facilities in order to meet the Asian demand for increasingly rare trafficked tiger parts. All are clear examples of commercial activities.

Again, there should have been zero captive-bred lion trophies allowed to be imported into the United States beginning January 22, 2016. Allowing them to come into the country contravenes the agency’s own findings and the agency should never have allowed these lions to come into the country. It was illegal. On a go-forward basis, it is imperative that the USFWS take steps to ensure that it is not unlawfully applying the narrow pre-Act exception in the ESA.

Even many trophy hunters, including the Operators and Professional Hunting Associations of Africa, disagree with the practice of trophy hunters shooting captive lions, mainly as a matter of fair chase and because of an absence of conservation benefits.

South Africa has also previously struggled to comply with CITES requirements to ensure that it is properly labeling captive- versus wild-sourced specimens. While USFWS has claimed that less than a dozen wild and “wild-managed” lions from South Africa are allowed to be killed by trophy hunters each year, it is alarming to think that hundreds more wild lions could have been killed and imported under the guise of being captive-bred.

President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should shut the door on all of this nonsense. Newspapers throughout the United States have lauded the president for taking a stand against the trophy hunting of elephants. It’s time to end all imports of sport-hunted trophies of threatened and endangered species in Africa coveted by American trophy hunters. Elephant, lion, and leopard populations are all spiraling downward despite decades of active trophy hunting to “conserve them.” The last thing we need are rich Americans killing them, with the biggest body count amassed at canned hunting facilities.

A horror show indeed.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Ujjal Goraya says:

    IT is so shameful that ‘King Of the Jungle’ is killed to provide its canned parts to some idiot backward ignorant people in China or elsewhere. This is totally un acceptable. The persons who engage in this filthy trade must be rounded up and immediately hanged.This will not be the duty of one country.It has to be done collectively. UNO is an impotent body of brain dead ‘octogenarians’ and the people who run it are the out-casts of their governments. To reverse their worthless existence they can do one good thing. They can save their face by stirring up a storm to save Lions,Tigers,Rhinos,cape Buffalos and other precious animals who are on the verge of extinction.If this is achieved I will die a happy person.

  2. Amie McCully says:

    These majestic animals lives are not for the taking! They want & deserve to live their lives without getting killed. This trophy killing is senseless cruelty & absolutely in no way should be tolerated!!!!😡😡😡

  3. Cynthia dovell says:

    I just cannot believe in this day and age this sort of thing is happening. I will never understand triophy hunting and it needs to be stopped NOW . Many of these beautiful animals are endangered and at extreme risk of becoming extinct.

  4. Tammy says:

    Last time I heard you could do the same thing in Texas. They get over flow from zoo. They then charge people tens of thousands of dollars to walk up to an animal and shoot them. These animals have been raised by people and are not afraid of them so, they don’t run.

    • Julie Harris says:

      Big time hunting right ? Ridiculous they call themselves hunters -no respect !
      Just a bunch that have more money & time -instead of helping a real cause !

  5. PMac says:

    How do we stop this barbaric inhuman cruelty? Which Congressional House and Senate legislative committees are tasked with investigating the illegal actions and therefore mismanagement of the US Fish and Wildlife Services, which, by the way, is under the command of the Department of the Interior’s Secretary Zinke? Who are the House and Senate members we should contact about this? Thank you.

  6. M SMILYANOVA says:


  7. Eleni Demetriou says:


  8. Vincenza Ferlisi says:

    the poor animals are so beautiful beings and they are simply extinguished. People play God and destroy everything on their way. I hope one day a law exists that will end all animal suffering. and these people should imagine it would be the other way around!

  9. Michael Burke says:

    A poem for you to share please “Shame Clenches The Lions Mane”
    Africa a land of dreams
    Mountains rivers plains and streams
    Iconic creatures prehistoric themes
    Tapestries of colour serene
    Stories legends and amazing scenes
    Smiling faces through out extremes
    Survival of the fittest powerful genes.
    Giant mountains just to climb, natures beauty
    so sublime :-
    Acacia thorns long and sharp
    fever trees sweet golden bark
    campfire embers burning bright
    protecting those, that is out of site
    A melody of slinking hyena, for night is their party arena
    evening closes for safaris posers
    people sleep as others creep
    Natures night reclaimed
    Trophy hunters to sleep in shame
    Time to turn in
    nothing repairs their deadly sin
    Nature rules but there will always be fools
    cowards in possession of deadly tools
    Vanity insanity who do they impress camouflage dress photographs for press
    This is no sport, havoc rort
    What price for life, Judgment is short
    Blood stained hands on primitive man
    no good to be of this persons clan
    Shame Clenches The Lions Mane!
    others scream oh my oh my please dont let this crime go on in vane.
    Just look away as I cry another species says goodbye.
    Michael Burke “Expedition Nentikobe”
    Stop rich selfish egotistical psychopaths from murdering Africa!

  10. Michelle N says:

    Does anyone know who can be contacted about this horror?
    I can’t believe that these sub-humans have no empathy and think nothing of killing these beautiful animals, all for money..
    I want to find out who to contact and stop this nightmare!!!

  11. Teresa says:

    What can we do about this!? Any petitions etc to sign?

    The public put a lot of pressure on over the elephants, let’s do it again!!!

  12. Linda Mander says:


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