WASHINGTON—The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and Humane Society Legislative Fund sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week calling out that the agency is not fulfilling its mandate under the Endangered Species Act by allowing imports of African lion trophies from Zimbabwe and is using faulty information to justify issuing permits.
The letter was prompted by the recent slaughter of Mopane, allegedly by an American trophy hunter, and the concern that other lions who reside around Hwange National Park—including Cecil’s offspring—may be next. After Cecil’s death in July 2015 prompted global outrage, concern turned to the fate of his pride.
Two male lion brothers, Humba and Netsai, took over the pride, which includes Cecil’s mates, daughters and grand cubs. Humba and Netsai are popular among tourists visiting Hwange National Park due to their magnificent manes, which are also attractive traits for trophy hunters. If they are targeted, Cecil’s relatives will be vulnerable to takeover and in danger of being killed.
Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States said, “The tragic deaths of Mopane and Cecil reveal a deep and ongoing threat to so many vulnerable lions just like them—potential victims who may die at the hands of trophy hunters, enduring hours of pain and suffering for the sake of a pretentious status symbol. We will not back down when it comes to ending this threat to lions. Cecil’s offspring, and other lions in his pride and across Africa, deserve protection from such a fate.”
In December 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the African lion under the Endangered Species Act, which meant that the USFWS would issue lion trophy import permits only when it could make a scientific finding that such imports would “enhance the survival of the species.” However, the agency has continued to allow lion imports despite not using the best available science in granting those permits. Since 2018, the agency has issued 23 permits to import lion trophies from Zimbabwe.
In 2017, the HSUS, HSI and HSLF wrote a letter to USFWS pointing out errors in its science, reasoning and analysis regarding importing lion trophies from Zimbabwe and explaining that the agency was violating the Endangered Species Act and its own regulations. Last week’s letter includes updated evidence and calls attention to the August 2021 killing of Mopane, a pride male who was lured out of Hwange National Park and killed on the same property where Cecil was killed and reportedly organized by the same trophy hunting outfitter as the one who Cecil’s killer contracted.
Mopane was allegedly killed by an American who might seek to import his lion trophy. The letter also states that science has demonstrated that hunting on the periphery of Hwange has caused lion populations of Hwange National Park to decline and is therefore not sustainable. Local residents are concerned about these hunts and the two males who took over Cecil’s pride could be next.
Jeff Flocken, president of Humane Society International, said, “If ethics are not enough of a reason to stop killing lions for trophies, our letter certainly demonstrates rigorous scientific evidence that trophy hunting of lions in Zimbabwe is unsustainable and does not enhance the survival of lions.”
The concerns are echoed by Zimbabwean advocates Advocates4Earth, which sent a letter to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland lamenting the continued slaughter of lions by American trophy hunters and requesting that USFWS suspend lion trophy imports from Zimbabwe.
Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund, said: “Lions continue being slaughtered by trophy hunters while the Fish and Wildlife Service pursues a business-as-usual trophy import permitting process despite evidence that trophy hunting does not aid in conservation efforts. Congress has recognized this fallacy by including language in appropriations that would halt the import of lion and elephant trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The agency must stop relying on outdated and incomplete data, must support this direction from Congress, and must stop allowing these imports—full-stop.”
This month, Humane Society International/Europe launched a new campaign, #NotInMyWorld, featuring images of a stuffed trophy hunted rhinoceros and elephant wrapped for overseas shipping. The shocking visuals are appearing across social media this month, and on buses and billboards in selected European cities. The campaign goal is to expose the shocking reality that thousands of internationally protected species are being shot for fun and imported as trophies into countries in the European Union which is the world’s second largest importer of hunting trophies after the United States.
- Rodi Rosensweig