Following the tragic and reportedly illegal killing of Cecil the lion, Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA today called on the US Government and European Union to take urgent steps to end the import of lion trophies and for an international moratorium on lion hunting. The global outcry following Cecil’s death has sent shock waves across the world and has further ignited the political and public debate on the plight of wild lions and the inhumane actions of sport hunters. 

US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron have made very public declarations to stop the illegal wildlife trade. Born Free is concerned that this may not be implemented fast enough. Current estimates suggest there are barely more than 30,000 lions remaining across Africa and localised or regionalised extinctions in the next decade are a real possibility.

President of the Born Free Foundation, Will Travers OBE, has publicly called on the hunters to lay down their weapons of mass destruction. “Cecil's story has sickened and saddened us all. We can no longer accept that hunting magnificent wild animals for ‘sport’ can be deemed acceptable. Cecil's death was brutal and it showed no respect for this iconic symbol of Africa. Trophy hunting is no sport; it is merely a disguise for killing to massage an ego.”

Born Free is calling on the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to release its Final Rule on the petition to list the lion as ‘endangered’ under the United States Endangered Species Act, first submitted by Born Free and others in March 2011. Listing under the ESA would prohibit wounding, harming, harassing, killing, or trading in lions, except under certain very limited conditions, and would add significant protection for lions across their range.

Further, Born Free is calling on US Government prosecutors to explore whether legal action against Mr Palmer is warranted under the Lacey Act, which prohibits transport of wildlife specimens if they were taken illegally in their place of origin.

According to Adam M Roberts, CEO of Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA: “The US Government has a responsibility to take decisive action to prevent another incident such as this from ever happening again. For four years we have waited for a final decision on our petition to list the lion – there is no more time to wait.”

Mr Roberts addressed the issue of trophy hunting specifically: “The figures don't stack up. The value to Africa's economy from wildlife tourism vastly outpaces any sum accrued from hunting. Trophy hunting is an elitist activity practiced by very wealthy people, with the income benefiting a small number of stakeholders The future is in conserving Africa's wildlife, not killing it. The future is in conserving Africa’s wildlife, not destroying it.”

There is very little evidence that the proceeds of trophy hunting benefits conservation or local communities in the hunting areas, with as little as 3% or less of the revenue generated trickling down. Lions and other charismatic wildlife are worth far more alive than dead to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. In Zimbabwe it is estimated that trophy hunting generates only 3.2% of total tourism revenue.

As further details emerged as to Mr Palmer’s callous actions and how this proud dominant male lion was dismembered, the brutal reality of the business of lion hunting was graphically exposed to the world. The practices of canned hunting operations have also been thrown under the spotlight, with allegations that lions are often drugged and baited to make them easier prey. Fuelled by their sensational appetite for trophies, the demography of hunters, who mainly stem from the US, pay thousands of dollars for their kill.

Across Africa, lion populations have reduced by more than 50% since 1980, and in much of its range the declines have been far higher. Lions have disappeared altogether from at least 12 African countries, and possibly as many as 16, in recent years and only inhabit a fragmented 8% of their historic range.

Cecil was collared and was being monitored as part of a conservation study by WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation and Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford) - a group supported by Born Free. All the evidence shows that Cecil was illegally pulled out of a national park, where he lived a protected existence, to an area where he could be shot. This illegal act was paid for by Mr Palmer. This lion was left in severe pain for many hours before he was finally shot.

Virginia McKenna OBE, a name synonymous with lions and star of the wildlife classic Born Free summed up the feelings of millions around the world: “This whole story is like some terrible nightmare. The power of money, the ego of man, the lack of compassion for and real understanding of wild creatures, the concept of hunting as a "sport". I thought we tried to instil kindness and respect in our children. Perhaps Mr Palmer thinks differently. But if what I heard today is true - that after killing Cecil he asked if they could find him an elephant - the future he faces is bleak indeed.”