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US Legislation, Inspired by Cecil's Death, Targets Trophy Hunting

This handout picture released by Zimbabwean parks officials shows Cecil, the much-loved lion that was killed by an American hunter in July.

An animal advocacy group is applauding anti-trophy-hunting legislation that the U.S. Congress is considering.

The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act was introduced in the House September 16 by Representative Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat. It's named for Cecil, the iconic lion killed in Zimbabwe in July by an American hunter, and is similar to legislation introduced earlier in the Senate.

Born Free USA said that if approved, the legislation would prohibit the importation of trophies from species that are threatened or endangered but not currently listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Adam Roberts, Born Free USA's chief executive officer, said the legislation was a long-awaited, critical step in ending what he called the unsustainable and unsportsmanlike practice of trophy hunting, and would also "ban other products and commercial trade in an endangered species, which is incredibly important.”

Roberts said that under the Endangered Species Act, officials sometimes take an emergency-room approach to saving the world’s wildlife.

"Sometimes the ESA is applied when it becomes critical for endangered species, and what we don’t want to do is have a situation in which animals are languishing while the [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service is making a decision” about whether to list them as endangered species," he said.

Roberts said the killing of Cecil put a face and a name to issues that conservation groups have been addressing for years.

“We’ve been talking about the number of lions that are killed across Africa for trophies — many more than 500 every year, with more than 60 percent of those being killed by American trophy hunters," he said. “So we’ve long highlighted the problem, but for many people, [they] are just numbers. It’s a very foreign concept to think about. However, when you take an individual like Cecil out of the family system and out of the ecosystem, it has dire consequences.”

The Endangered Species Act does contain a provision that allows a person to apply for a special permit to capture or kill animals that are listed under the ESA if the person can show that capturing or killing the wildlife will enhance the conservation of the species in the wild.

This aspect of the law would not change should the CECIL legislation be adopted.