For the first time since 2016, when the United States protected lions under the Endangered Species Act, the Trump administration will allow an American trophy hunter to bring home the body parts of a lion he killed in Tanzania. This is the second such instance of the administration’s reckless disregard for global wildlife in under a week; the first involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s granting of a permit for the import of an endangered black rhino trophy. Together, these permitting decisions set off alarm bells over just how fast the agency is backpedaling on its mandate of protecting the world’s most at-risk wildlife.
Americans have a sordid history of killing lions in Tanzania. For decades U.S. trophy hunters traveled to the African nation to hunt dozens of these magnificent animals each year and bring their heads and hides back home. But after a successful legal petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and our partners, FWS, in 2016, listed African lions under the Endangered Species Act for the first time, instituting a strict permitting requirement for trophy imports.
Because these permits can only lawfully be issued if the FWS finds that hunting lions in a particular country promotes the conservation of the species, the number of lion trophies being imported from Tanzania had dropped to zero in the last three years. Until now.
There is something very disturbing happening within the FWS. It is baffling why the agency would determine that Tanzania – a country that has long catered to the corrupt trophy hunting industry and forced out competent wildlife biologists – is sustainably managing its lion population. What makes the entire matter even more suspect is that the FWS made the decision to issue this permit behind closed doors, without independent scientific input or public comment.
We are now engaged in a legal battle over the FWS’s pattern of making trophy import permitting decisions without rigorous scientific evaluation and its failure to inform the public in a timely matter about permits it has issued. In our view, one Tanzanian lion trophy import issued is too many. To our great dismay, other records that we’ve had to sue to obtain show that the agency has received more than 40 applications to import lion trophies from Tanzania, indicating that this could be the beginning of a dangerous backslide.
We also continue to be on high alert to see if the agency flip-flops on a decision – in place since 2014 – to prohibit the import of elephant trophies from Tanzania, even as we keep up the fight to get more protections for other animals, like leopards, in Tanzania and across the African continent.
We have taken this fight to Congress and we urgently need your help to help pass a bill that would prohibit the import of lion and elephant trophies from Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Please call your lawmakers today and urge them to support the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act, named for the legendary lion who was killed in 2015 by an American trophy hunter.
It’s too late for Cecil and other lions killed for their body parts. But for the sake of all imperiled endangered animals, let’s end this war being waged against them by a handful of trophy hunters with the blessings of our government, and stand strong for a renewed American commitment to the strongest possible protection for imperiled wildlife everywhere.