WASHINGTON - Four Democratic senators announced Friday that they will introduce a bill named for the beloved Zimbabwean lion Cecil, who was killed by an American trophy hunter earlier this month.
The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act would extend current U.S. import and export restrictions on animal trophies to include species that have been proposed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Current law provides protection only for species whose status on the list has been finalized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and it can take over a year for the agency to complete an assessment.
Democrats Bob Menendez (N.J.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Ben Cardin (Md.) are co-sponsoring the legislation. Click here to read the full text of the bill.
“Cecil’s death was a preventable tragedy that highlights the need to extend the protections of the Endangered Species Act," Menendez said in a statement on Friday. "When we have enough concern about the future of a species to propose it for listing, we should not be killing it for sport." In a similar statement, Blumenthal called the hunting of endangered species "a reprehensible and repugnant act."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already proposed adding the African lion to the list of species covered by the Endangered Species Act, but the agency has yet to finalize the designation. The CECIL Act would ensure that species under consideration for protection are automatically covered by the tightest import restrictions on sport hunted trophies.
In the case of Cecil, this would mean that the Minnesota dentist who shot and killed the lion, identified as Walter Palmer, would need a special permit directly from the U.S. secretary of the interior in order to import a trophy of Cecil from Zimbabwe to the United States.
According to news reports, Palmer left Cecil's carcass in the Zimbabwean bush, taking with him only the animal's skin and head, ostensibly to have them mounted into a replica trophy for display.
The death of the 13 year-old African lion has sparked global outrage, and prompted a request by the government of Zimbabwe to have Walter Palmer extradited to the country to face potential poaching charges.
On Friday morning, U.S. authorities said they were in contact with Palmer, who faces questioning over the circumstances of Cecil's death. The lion was reportedly lured outside of its protected habitat for Palmer to shoot with a bow. The hunter and his guides then stalked the injured animal for nearly two days, before finally shooting it with a gun.
Other legislation has also been introduced in response to Cecil's killing. In New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban the import of endangered or threatened species through any of the three regional airports managed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- Newark Liberty, Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.