LONDON – United Airlines joined Delta Air Lines Inc. in banning big-game trophies as freight after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe triggered mounting global outrage.
“We felt it made sense to do so,” Charles Hobart, a United spokesman, said Monday in disclosing the carrier’s decision to prohibit transportation of elephants, rhinoceroses, leopards and water buffalo as well as lions. Hours earlier, Delta announced its new policy covering the same five animals.
The carriers spotlighted the mundane logistics that follow a visiting hunter’s bagging of African wildlife: getting the head, horns or hide back home. Airlines already faced animal-rights groups’ pressure to reject such cargo even before last month’s killing of Cecil, 13, a star attraction for tourists at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
Neither United nor Delta referred to Cecil, who allegedly was lured out of the Hwange park. Zimbabwe wildlife authorities suspended hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in some areas near the park last weekend amid conflicting reports on whether poachers had killed another lion, possibly Cecil’s brother.
“Prior to this ban, Delta’s strict acceptance policy called for absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species,” the Atlanta-based airline said. “Delta will also review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies with appropriate government agencies and other organizations supporting legal shipments.”
Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta, declined comment beyond the statement, and United’s Hobart had no comment beyond confirming the new policy.
Delta is the biggest U.S. carrier to Africa, while United, a unit of United Continental Holdings Inc., serves only one destination on the continent — Lagos, Nigeria. American Airlines Group Inc., which doesn’t fly to Africa, had no immediate comment regarding its trophies-as-freight stance.
South African Airways moved in April to halt the carriage of legally acquired hunting trophies of lions, elephants, rhinoceros and tigers, then ended its embargo in July once it concluded that it had safeguards to stop illegal shipments, the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs said.
Weeks after South African Airways’ initial action, Emirates airline agreed in May to stop carrying any wildlife trophies, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A message left for comment with the airline’s U.S. offices wasn’t immediately returned.
“No airline should provide a get-away vehicle for the theft of Africa’s wildlife,” Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the U.S., said in a statement.
Zimbabwe has requested the extradition of Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil. Professional hunter Theo Bronkhorst, who assisted in stalking the animal, has appeared in court in the country.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it’s investigating the incident. Animal-rights groups have called for a ban on trophy hunting, and Palmer has received death threats through social media and has closed his dental practice, at least temporarily. Palmer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper in a statement that he thought the hunt was legal.