As US president Donald Trump mulls the signing into law of an act that would restrict imports of hunting trophies from African countries, wildlife experts and animal rights groups are at odds over the economic impact and its ultimate effect on conservation.
Named the CECIL Act, it is said to be motivated by the killing of Cecil the lion outside Hwange National Park in 2015 in the Matabeleland North province of Zimbabwe. The bill would place a total ban on US imports of hunting trophies from dead lions or elephants from Zimbabwe, Zambia or Tanzania.
Cecil the lion was killed by American dentist Walter Palmer, sparking heated debate and outrage around the world among animal rights activists.
The US Government’s House on Natural Resources Committee has passed the Act. Currently, CECIL, also known as the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of hunted Animal Trophies Act, awaits a vote in the US House of Representatives.
The British government is also reportedly set to announce a ban on trophies after decades of campaigning by animal rights lobby groups.
Last week Metro.co.uk reported that animal welfare minister Zac Goldsmith said government would be consulting urgently. Goldsmith also voiced disgust at hunters, including Palmer.
However, some experts in Zimbabwe fear that legislation aimed at protecting animals would have adverse effects on conservation, as other countries sympathetic to America would follow suit, which could in turn reduce revenue generated by the wildlife industry.
In an opinion article published in the Washington Examiner, Fulton Upenyu Mangwanya, Director General of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, argued that ceasing to import hunting trophies from Zimbabwe would not contribute to the conservation of ecosystems.
He said Zimbabwe managed to secure over five million hectares of land outside traditional protected areas, an achievement that was only realised due to US$2m in big game hunting revenue, which went to over 800 000 families in rural areas.
"The CECIL Act would rob such initiatives of this funding, eliminating incentives for local communities to participate in these effective conservation initiatives.
"Without money from sport hunting safaris, we would be unable to implement most of our flagship conservation plans," he wrote.