The king of the jungle just got some much needed backup as the U.S. government added African lions to the Endangered Species Act. Designed to put a damper on hunting practices overseas, the designation to be announced today by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) prohibits hunters from bringing lion trophies back to the States. This move was inspired in part by the controversial killing of Cecil – the beloved lion lured out of his home at the Hwangwe National Park in Zimbabwe and killed by an American hunter.
Lion hunting is illegal in some African countries, but in those nations which have no ban in place, lions are a valuable prize for rich international hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the opportunity to slay one of the majestic big cats. By listing lions as a threatened species, the U.S. government will impose stricter regulations on the import of live lions and lion parts, including heads, paws, and skins. In order to bring a lion trophy back home to the States, a hunter will have to meet special standards set by the new rules and prove that the animal was killed legally.
Some U.S. airlines have already imposed a ban on hunting trophies, making it more challenging for hunters to bring back their trophy kills. The new FWS rule won’t shut down the trafficking of all lion parts, but instead increases the administrative process for seeking approval for the transport, which may be enough to deter hunters from seeking lion trophies even in countries where it is still legal to hunt them.
In the case of Cecil, it’s unclear whether the new rule would apply. The circumstances surrounding Cecil’s death attracted international attention, as it became apparent local hunting guides had lured the lion outside the park’s boundaries illegally. Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot the lion with a bow and arrow, and then the group tracked him for 40 hours before killing him. Zimbabwe officials charged the game park owner and hunting guides for their part, and they initially sought to prosecute the trigger man himself as well. Later, the government reversed its position, refusing to press charges against Palmer while simultaneously banning him from hunting in Zimbabwe in the future. Essentially, Zimbabwe authorities decided that Palmer’s part in Cecil’s death was not actually illegal, since he did have a permit to kill a lion. Cecil’s government may have sanctioned Palmer’s actions by choosing not to charge him, but it’s unclear whether FWS would accept that position or conduct its own investigation to determine if the kill was legal.