On July 1st, 2015, Cecil, the beloved black-maned lion, who was a popular attraction at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and the subject of a long-term research study, was shot and killed by American dentist, Walter Palmer. Cecil’s death sparked international outrage and spurred Zimbabwean officials to ask the U.S. to extradite Palmer, accusing him of poaching and illegally luring Cecil away from his protected reservation.
Zimbabwe is a popular country for big-game huntsmen because many government officials are all too willing to sell off endangered wildlife to the highest bidder. In a separate incident prior to Cecil’s death, another U.S. doctor hired a safari guide to aid him in an illegal hunt. Like Palmer, the doctor lacked permits or quotas; however, unlike Palmer, he has yet to be charged and Zimbabwe has not asked for his extradition.
Due to the poor monitoring and safeguarding of these animals, the U.S. and other foreign governments have begun to take action in their own countries to prevent similar atrocities. For example, in 2014 and 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlawed the importation of elephant trophies and on July 15th, 2015, the UN passed a resolution denouncing wildlife poaching and trafficking, calling on governments worldwide to pass similar measures. Despite these initial efforts, more regulation is needed.
Specifically in reaction to the slaying of Cecil, Senators Robert Menendez, Cory Booker, Richard Blumenthal, and Ben Cardin co-sponsored the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act. Urging U.S. officials to not act as “cowardly lions,” the Senators propose that the act will extend current U.S. restrictions on the importation and exportation of animal trophies to include animals that have been submitted as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. While current U.S. law offers protection for species officially recognized as threatened or endangered, if passed, the CECIL Act would forbid any and all imports of trophies and parts of at-risk species, including African lions, into the U.S. Lastly, an additional bill proposed in reaction to Cecil’s killing in New Jersey would prohibit the importation of endangered or threatened species into any of the regional airports controlled by New York and New Jersey’s Port Authority.
Loren Shokes is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2017).