Protection victories since the Cecil tragedy

Today marks the one year anniversary of Cecil’s shooting. PHOTO: © Paula French/shutterstock.comA year ago today, a trophy hunter from the US shot an arrow from a high-caliber crossbow into Cecil the lion, a charismatic pride leader from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It didn’t kill the majestic felid immediately and he ran off, most likely mortally wounded.

To add to the tragedy, it wasn’t until some 40 or so hours after that Cecil finally died from a rifle shot.

As the media plastered the pictures and video of poor Cecil on front pages, cable feeds, and home pages, you just couldn’t ignore it. Looking back, I know that Cecil the lion did not die in vain.

What did we learn? People from all around the world now have a better awareness of the cruelty of trophy hunting and they have asked governments to put an end to it.

In the days and weeks that followed, numerous national and international airlines announced that they would ban the transport of hunting trophies. It was an important statement of support from a major travel industry.

The French government banned the import of lion trophies . Government agencies would no longer issue permits authorizing hunters to bring lion trophies into the country. (Australia had made such a decree previous to Cecil’s killing based on information IFAW provided to the environment minister.)

A month later, USFWS announced that lions would be afforded more protections under the US Endangered Species Act. IFAW  was one of the original authors of the petition to list African lions under the Act, and we have long been an advocate for Panthera leo in a variety of arenas, from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to the Convention of the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS).

All of this has been great progress, but something was still amiss, something was missing from the debate on the so-called conservation benefits of trophy hunting.

The research was lacking.

So in order to start what we hope will be further analysis on the trophy hunting industry and its conservation claims, our team—led by North American regional director Jeffrey Flocken—diligently gathered 10 years of CITES data on trophy imports and exports. Our analysis, titled  Killing For Trophies: An Analysis of Global Trophy Hunting Trade, yielded some remarkable numbers:

  • Of the 1.7 million traded trophies since 2004, 200,000 come from taxa categorised as threatened by CITES
  •  Although there is worldwide demand for animal trophies, 97 percent of that demand comes from just 20 countries, with the United States being the largest importer of hunting trophies by far, accounting for a staggering 71 percent of the import demand.
  • 8,231 lions were killed to be trophies in the ten-year period from 2004 through 2014.
  • We are confident that this will also serve as a baseline for future studies that will hopefully reveal that the death in the wake of killing for sport is cruel and entirely unwarranted.

As you may remember, Cecil had been collared by the Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. IFAW is now collaborating with Kenya Wildlife Services to collar the 35 lions of Nairobi National Park.  The more we know about lion movements in and out of the park, the better we will understand how lions come in contact with humans.

We have come a long way in a year, and we have a long way to go to make sure this so-called sport, a threat to imperiled lion population numbers and to the welfare of individual members and their relationships within the pride, is better understood as the brutal and unnecessary act it is and eventually becomes extinct itself.


To learn more about trophy hunting read our report.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime