Photo by Vince O'Sullivan

What the Bill Does

The CECIL Act would greatly limit the ability of sport hunters to import trophies of imperiled species. Specifically, it would do the following:

  • Prohibit—absent a permit—trophy hunting imports of species that are proposed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
  • Require the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to determine, with input from the public, that a country adequately provides for the conservation and monitoring of a sport-hunted species before the agency is allowed to issue import permits for that species from that country
  • Prohibit importation of an elephant or lion trophy from Tanzania, Zimbabwe, or Zambia
  • Require the permit applicant to cover all administrative costs associated with processing the permit application
  • Require the USFWS to publish for public comment in the Federal Register each import permit application for a threatened species it receives, as it currently does for endangered species
  • Eliminate the International Wildlife Conservation Council, an advisory council under the USFWS that is composed solely of trophy hunting advocates
  • Solicit a report from the Government Accountability Office on the effectiveness of trophy hunting in supporting international wildlife conservation efforts

These measures promote greater transparency from the USFWS, reverse shortsighted policies implemented by the Trump administration, and reinstate crucial protections for threatened and endangered species.

The Case Against Trophy Hunting

There is no credible scientific evidence that trophy hunting benefits conservation or economic development. Animals, including species popular among eco-tourists, are worth more alive than dead. An analysis of eight African countries by Economists at Large found that overall tourism, which relies heavily on wildlife resources in those nations, contributes between 2.8% and 5.1% of GDP, but foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1% of tourists on average, and the total economic contribution of trophy hunters is at most 0.03% of GDP. Photo safaris, in comparison, allow for sustainable, lucrative tourism activity in which the animals can be “reused” rather than killed.

Furthermore, trophy hunting hurts the structure and viability of wild populations. Big game hunters target the largest, strongest animals for trophies. Killing the leader of the lion pride or the matriarch of the elephant herd can result in enormous upheaval for the surviving members of the group, disrupting social bonds and behaviors. Killing the largest animals or those with the largest tusks, antlers, or horns can also have adverse genetic impacts on the population. Furthermore, many of these populations are already severely depleted due to other threats, and the 100,000+ animals killed by trophy hunters each year exacerbates the problem.

Most Americans want to see international wildlife valued and protected via nonlethal methods. In fact, 86 percent of Americans oppose hunting big game (HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll).

Recent Government Actions

In an effort to address severe African elephant population declines, in 2014 the USFWS issued rules banning the importation of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe into the United States, based on country-wide enhancement findings prepared by the agency. In addition, the listing of African lions under the ESA in 2015 included a special rule requiring permits for trophy imports. The Obama administration stopped issuing import permits for African lions following this listing.

However, on October 20, 2017, the USFWS quietly reversed course, issuing 33 permits to Americans to import a total of 38 lions killed in Zimbabwe and Zambia between 2016 and 2018. In November 2017, the USFWS announced (at a hunting forum) that it would allow elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia. This was quickly halted and the policy thrown into confusion after President Trump tweeted that trophy hunting is a “horror show.”

Then, in December 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit nullified the 2014 elephant trophy rules when it found that officials had implemented the elephant trophy import bans without following required procedures, including a failure to subject the rules to public comment. Following that court decision, the USFWS issued a memo in March 2018 announcing that it would evaluate lion, elephant, and bontebok trophies from six African countries (Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia) on a case-by-case rather than a nation-by-nation basis. The result is that the USFWS can now grant import permits with minimal adherence to transparency or science.

Furthermore, in 2017 the USFWS established the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC). The stated goal of this council is to boost public awareness of the "conservation, wildlife law enforcement, and economic benefits that result from U.S. citizens traveling to foreign nations to engage in hunting.” It benefits only a very small interest group, and its function is already covered by the very broad mandate of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council. Despite its nonessential function, this 18-person council meets twice per year with “travel expenses, including per diem,” funded by US taxpayers. The composition of this new council is also of significant concern, with members including representatives of the firearms and ammunition industries but no scientists or conservationists. The lack of balance of interests on the IWCC violates federal law.

Share This!