Cecil the lion bill: Should Congress stop big game hunting?

In the wake of Cecil the lion’s death, US lawmakers are drafting a bill to curb hunting of endangered species. 

Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP
In this undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. US lawmakers have proposed a legislation to stem hunting of endangered species.

The killing of Cecil the lion has prompted US lawmakers to push for a law to block hunters from bringing home endangered species "trophies."

The bill, named for the internationally mourned lion – the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act – “would make it illegal for trophy hunters to bring back parts of any species proposed or listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973,” Time.com reports. The US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the lion as threatened under the act last October.

“Let’s not be cowardly lions when it comes to trophy killings,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D) of New Jersey said in a statement, adding that the legislation is “a necessary and prudent step that creates a disincentive for these senseless trophy killings and advances our commitment in leading the fight to combat global wildlife trafficking.”

Cecil, one of Zimbabwe’s most famous lions was killed by a Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer on July 1st .  Palmer who reportedly paid local guides more than $50,000 to secure all the permits and help him track the lion, claims he was led to believe the hunt was legal.

The slaying of Cecil has sparked international outrage, as well brought into light the thriving business of wildlife hunting that is rampant in eastern and southern African countries. 

On Saturday, Zimbabwe suspended the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in an area where a lion popular with tourists was killed, and is investigating the killing of another lion in April that may have been illegal, reported the Associated Press.

Big game hunting has long been sanctioned in Africa for conservation and economic reasons. 

Some argue that tourist safari hunts generate significant sums for African nations, and that big game hunting can actually protect endangered species. 

According to Business Insider, “many hunters think other African countries should follow South Africa’s example and encourage well-organized, controlled culling of species, so giving them a value to those that live with them. They argue that a rhino, like anything else, will eventually die of old age, so why not allow an elderly beast to be shot and charge fees that can be used to fund effective anti-poaching measures?” 

In a CNN opinion piece, Niki Rust and Diogo Verissimo write that "Zimbabwe has a tradition of using trophy hunting to promote wildlife conservation. Through the CAMPFIRE program, which ran from 1989 to 2001, more than $20m was given to participating communities, 89% of which came from sports hunting. In more recent times, populations of elephants and other large herbivores have been shown to benefit from trophy hunting."

Others say the economic and environmental benefits of trophy hunting are negligible.

In 2014, science writer Jason G. Goldman blogged, "I don’t understand the desire to kill a magnificent animal for sport, even if the individual is an older non-breeding male. The sale of the right to kill an animal for a trophy surely reflects the value that animal lives hold in at least some corners of our society: that killing an animal for fun isn't wrong, as long as you can afford it. It is right to worry about the sort of message that sends."

Hunting tour operators promise that the money raised from the sale of hunting permits is used for conservation, but it is not clear how much of the money goes to conservation efforts and how it helps communities. 

“It is a corrupt business from start to finish,” conservation group Lion Alert said in a statement published on its website. “Change can come, but it will take a concerted effort by clients to seek out hunting operators who truly are involved with conservation ethics and amelioration of rural community poverty and hunger.”

This week, the UN adopted a resolution committing all countries to ramp up their collective efforts to end the global poaching crisis and tackle the vast illegal wildlife trade. "The assembly said this should include strengthening legislation to prevent, investigate and prosecute illegal trading and called on all countries to make illicit trafficking involving organized criminal groups "a serious crime," Associated Press reports. 

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mis-identified Jason Goldman, who is a science writer.

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