Big cat advocates weigh in on lion death, how to stop trophy hunts

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Big cat advocates weigh in on lion death, how to stop trophy hunts

The last few days have left many grappling with the question of what has to be so fundamentally wrong with some people that they feel the need to dispose of part of their ample income by killing majestic, exotic animals.

"I think it's clear from the public outrage that there is no justification for taking the life of a beautiful animal without cause," Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa told ABC Action News.

That's why Baskin and her colleagues are hoping for some policy changes.

If you haven't been to Big Cat Rescue, it's a wide swath of green amid the concrete in the suburban Citrus Park area. It houses all of the lions, tigers, bobcats, servals and ocelots (and any other big cats) that can live comfortably on its grounds, animals that were once chained up in basements or made to serve as guard animals for drug dealers. The public is allowed to tour a part of the facility, where some of the cats occupy large enclosures.

Guides tell you not only about the story of each cat you encounter, but also how to help stop future generations of big cats from being illegally trafficked — they often say they hope conservation efforts are successful enough to negate the need for sanctuaries like Big Cat Rescue.

So speaking out in the wake of horrific events like the death of Cecil the lion is part of what they do.

In that sad event's wake, the sanctuary's staff hopes the public outrage will lead to understanding, and probably more public outrage, over the circumstances that allowed Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer to kill a lion (and do other grotesque things to it we won't get into) in Zimbabwe.

"It's such a disgraceful act, and yet the reason that it happens is because they haven't been listed as an endangered species yet," Baskin said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the animals as threatened.

Even though lions aren't indigenous to the Americas (well, not in the past 10,000 years, anyway, if you want to get technical about it), protection under the Endangered Species Act would aid in their survival. Such protection would make it illegal to bring fur and other parts of lions killed in trophy hunts into the U.S.

A New Jersey assemblyman has filed a bill that would outlaw transport of any threatened or endangered animal carcasses through any airport overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and some airlines have refused to ship carcasses of poached animals into the U.S.

Baskin told ABC Action News that the damage trophy hunting can do to already vulnerable species goes beyond the needless suffering and death of a single lion.

"Whenever trophy hunters are out hunting for a trophy, they want the biggest, darkest-maned lion that they can kill, and that's what Cecil was," she said. "Other, younger males try to move in by taking over the pride, and the way they do that is by killing all of the cubs...The mother lions love their cubs, so they will fight to the death to protect their cubs. So just taking out one cat like Cecil ends up destroying the entire pride."

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