THE US will no longer allow lion trophies to be imported from captive lion populations in South Africa, describing this as a “major step” for the conservation of the species across Africa.

Writing in the Huffington Post yesterday, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW) Dan Ashe said it “cannot and will not allow trophies into the US from any nation whose lion conservation programme fails to meet key criteria for transparency scientific management and effectiveness”.

Last year, the US announced it had changed the rules relating to the import of lion trophies into the country, now requiring US hunters to obtain an import permit before the hunts take place.

But Chris Mercer, of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, suggested this was “at the very least, a clever public relations coup”.

“USFW can claim to be protecting lions, which it is not, can claim to be supporting weak African conservation structures, which it is not, and can claim to be controlling the hunting industry, which it is not.”

Other than “adding a layer of bureaucracy” to the paperwork of foreign hunters and “infuriating hunting thugs, nothing will change on the ground”. “Canned lion hunting will continue unabated,” he suggested.

Foreign lion hunters had already found a way around this restriction, by employing “pay to play” tactics which would see hunters donate to a lion research organisation in return for a permit to import his tame lion trophy.

“In that way, he proves that the ‘hunt’ will ‘enhance the survival of wild lions’ as required by the new rule,” said Mercer.

Blood Lions, a campaign to outlaw captive lion hunting and canned hunting, applauded the US move, however.

“So many people and organisations from around the world have become part of the campaign to end these unethical practices because they also believe they have no place in conservation,” it said.