Delta Air Lines Inc., the largest U.S. carrier to Africa, banned big-game trophies as freight after the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe triggered mounting global outrage.
The worldwide prohibition, effective immediately, covers elephants, rhinoceros, leopards and buffalo as well as lions, Delta said Monday.
“Prior to this ban, Delta’s strict acceptance policy called for absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species,” the airline said. Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta, declined to comment beyond the statement.
Without mentioning Cecil, Delta spotlighted the mundane logistics that follow a visiting hunter’s successful quest for a wildlife trophy in Africa: 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, a star attraction for tourists at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
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.
Delta said it will review policies on accepting other hunting trophies with appropriate government agencies and other organizations supporting legal shipments. United Airlines and American Airlines had no immediate comment. United has Africa destinations; American doesn’t.
“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.
Cecil, 13, was killed in July, allegedly after being lured out of the Hwange park. This weekend, Zimbabwe wildlife authorities suspended hunting of lions, leopards and elephants in some areas near the park amid conflicting reports on whether poachers had killed another lion, possibly Cecil’s brother.
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.