US should forbid the import of lion ‘trophies’

Cecil the lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed.
Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP
Cecil the lion was lured out of a national park in Zimbabwe and killed.

The United States may not be able to prevent the gratuitous killing of rare lions in Africa, but it can at least make it harder for US-based hunters to bring home their trophies. The government should finalize rules that would allow it to forbid the import of dead lions, perhaps deterring some hunts in the first place.

That would be an appropriate response to the worldwide outpouring of outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion by a Minnesota dentist. Cecil, a well-known lion at a national park in Zimbabwe, was lured out of the park and shot with a bow earlier this month. The arrow didn’t kill him; instead, according to the account a Zimbabwe conservation official gave the New York Times, the hunters tracked the wounded animal for the next two days before shooting him with a gun.

The fact that the victim was a popular lion, with a name and a pride of cubs that will now likely die without his protection, has ensured that Cecil’s killing stirred global fury. But hundreds of lions are hunted every year. Selling licenses for lion-hunting to wealthy foreigners can be a source of revenue for cash-strapped African nations.


For many of those hunters, bringing the corpse home is the culmination of the experience. Cecil’s killers beheaded the animal, leaving his rest of the carcass behind, presumably so the head could be stuffed and mounted. (The head has since been impounded by Zimbabwean authorities.)

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The international condemnation focused on the dentist, Walter J. Palmer, may seem a bit unfair, given the number of other animals hunted across the world. But most hunters do not target threatened species, and many at least eat what they kill. Palmer didn’t need Cecil for food; nor had the lion shown any danger to humans. Finally, the slow, inhumane way in which he was killed is enough to give pause even to those who support hunting.

The government already regulates the import of certain trophies, like polar bears. Last year, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed extending protections to lions. If a rule against importing trophies makes one wealthy hunter think twice about spending his money to bag a lion, it’ll be worth the effort.