Two years ago this month, a wealthy American dentist using a bow and arrow shot a magnificent black-maned lion called Cecil who had been lured from the safety of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. The injured lion was only finally killed some hours later.
The incident sent shock waves around the world. Associated media stories reached nearly 12,000 per day, and social media mentions peaked at nearly 90,000, as the international community woke up to the realities of the cynical, profit-driven business of trophy hunting, and the damaging impacts it has on individual animal welfare and the conservation of many endangered populations.
The global outrage generated huge pressure on the trophy hunting industry. Petitions accumulated massive numbers of signatories. Celebrities endorsed calls for an end to the controversial practice. Several major airlines announced bans on the transport of hunting trophies. The World Conservation Congress passed a Resolution calling on South Africa to end the practice of 'canned hunting' where intensively bred lions and other predators are killed by paying 'hunters' in enclosures.
But two years on, little appears to have changed on the ground. Hunting proponents continue to claim their activities benefit species conservation, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. Many thousands of animals continue to be targeted each year by wealthy hunters who seem to care little for the suffering and disruption they cause, and little if any of the money they pay for the 'privilege' of their bloody endeavours benefits wildlife conservation or local communities. Canned hunting continues in South Africa, and the powerful predator breeders have even managed to persuade the authorities there to endorse a massive quota for the export of skeletons from captive-bred lions to help prop up their commercial activities.
There are fears that the administration in the United States might even try to roll back protections achieved under the Endangered Species Act, which currently restrict the ability of American hunters to bring home trophies from certain species. The European Union, itself a centre for trophy hunting and a source of hunters who target animals all over the world, shies away from strictly interpreting its own rules on the import of trophies from threatened species, which ought to require far greater scrutiny of the impacts of trophy hunting operations than they do.
While there are people willing to pay large amounts of money for the 'privilege' of killing a wild animal, bringing an end to the practice will be an uphill struggle. After all, money talks. However, as our knowledge of the impacts trophy hunting on individual wild animals and the communities to which they belong expands, the pressure on authorities around the world to increase transparency and regulation will continue to grow.
The legacy of Cecil the lion is as important as ever, and will continue to be so until trophy hunting has been consigned to history where it belongs.
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