Six months after a Minnesota dentist shot and killed Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, the federal government is poised to make it harder for big game hunters to bring their lion trophies back to the U.S.
The Washington Post reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will announce Monday that it's placing the African lion on the endangered species list, quoting officials from two animal welfare groups that have been seeking the designation for the past five years.
Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot and killed Cecil, a protected and beloved research animal, in early July.
The designation isn't directly related to Cecil's death, but the public outcry over the incident put the practice of trophy hunting in a harsh light, those advocates told the Post.
Lion population declining
The decision is based on the continuing decline in African lion numbers, the Associated Press reports.
A study released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature this summer indicated there are fewer than 30,000 lions still living in Africa, and that their numbers have declined by 60 percent over the past 20 years.
The main causes are the loss of habitat and prey for the animals, according to the survey – both of which are related to human encroachment. But "poorly regulated trophy hunting" was also cited as an ongoing threat, according to the Washington Post.
Under the new rules of the Endangered Species Act, people can still hunt lions. But U.S. hunters will need to get an import permit from the Fish and Wildlife Service to bring trophies, such as the animals' heads or hides, back into the country. Right now, no permit is necessary.
Permits for endangered lions will only be granted if importing the animal would "enhance the species' survival," according to the AP.
The African lion is the last big cat to join tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars and cougars on the endangered species list, the Post reports.
Palmer's hunt for Cecil
Palmer, an avid trophy hunter, reportedly paid a professional guide more than $50,000 to go on the hunt back in July.
Officials in Zimbabwe say Cecil was illegally lured by Palmer’s hunting guide to private land from the Hwange National Park, where he was the showpiece attraction for visitors because of his distinctive black mane. Cecil, who wore a radio collar, was protected from hunting.
Palmer said several times he “deeply regrets” his role in the animal’s killing, and said he believed he was taking part in a legal hunt.
The FWS said its investigation into Cecil's killing is ongoing and declined to comment directly on the case, according to the Associated Press.