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The Big Six

Kathleen Magner

Majestic elephants lumbering across the African scrub land; the prowess and mighty roar of the regal lion – over millions of years, nature has evolved to create a rich tapestry encompassing a remarkable diversity of life. It is heartbreaking to contemplate that within our lifetime these iconic species, along with many others, may cease to exist due to human causes. In addition to their intrinsic loss, according to the landmark 2019 report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Professor Sandra Díaz (Argentina), who co-chaired the Assessment with Professor Josef Settele (Germany) and Professor Eduardo S. Brondízio (Brazil and USA). “The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.” 

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The wildlife in Africa is being decimated for reasons including poaching, wildlife trafficking, habitat loss and retaliatory killing, with trophy hunting exacerbating the threat to these imperiled species by killing the most impressive animals that possess the high-quality genes necessary for the perpetuation of the species. The United States is the world’s largest importer of animal trophies, which includes elephants, lions, leopards, and the rest of the “Big Six,” whose populations are in a precipitous decline. These species are also being threatened by poaching for body parts on the black market. The profits finance African genocidal militias and terrorist groups, paying for weapons used to kill more of these animals.


Connecticut is currently an enabler in this global crisis by allowing the import, sale and possession of these endangered animals. According to Friends of Animals, from 2005-2020, 71 trophy hunting permits were issued to Connecticut residents by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so people could hunt and kill leopards for their trophies. Seven additional permits were provided to Connecticut residents to kill African elephants in Botswana, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. And from 2005-2020, Connecticut residents killed 39 lions and one giraffe and imported their trophies. 


But there is hope. We have an opportunity right now to move Connecticut forward by passing a law that would address these contributing factors that threaten these African species. During the legislative session currently in progress, SB-925 (formerly SB-62), “An Act Prohibiting the Import, Sale and Possession of African Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Black Rhinoceros, White Rhinoceros and Giraffes” would prohibit the import, sale, and possession of these types of trophies and products from “Big Six” African species.


It is imperative that this law be passed in this session since time is of the essence. As the number of a species declines, there is less diversity in their gene pool. Without genetic variation, a species cannot adapt to changing conditions and will eventually become extinct. According to the African Wildlife Foundation:

  • Lions could go extinct by 2050 if the current rate continues.

  • African Elephants are at risk of extinction in 10 years. 

  • Black Rhinoceros population is down 97.6% since 1960.

  • Giraffe overall population is down 40% in the past 15 years.

  • Leopard population has fallen over 30% and disappeared from 65 percent of its historic range in the last 22 years.


To put a face and name one of these animals, it was in July 2015, when Cecil, a beloved 13-year-old lion, was lured out of his sanctuary in a national park in Zimbabwe by food placed outside the park by hunters. The first shot, which the authorities say came from Dr. Walter J. Palmer, an American hunter’s crossbow, was not enough to kill the lion. Cecil was tracked for almost two days, suffering, severely wounded and slowly dying, before Dr. Palmer killed him with a final shot. The big cat was skinned and his head reportedly cut off as a trophy. Two years later, Cecil’s son, Xanda, was killed in a trophy hunt. Masha Kalinina from Humane Society International condemned the shooting. “The killing of Xanda just goes to show that trophy hunters have learned nothing from the international outcry that followed Cecil’s death. They continue at a time when lions face a conservation crisis in Africa, with as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild. Xanda was a well-studied lion like this father and critical to conservation efforts in Zimbabwe,” Kalinina said. 


Your support of SB-925 is essential. Connecticut now has the opportunity to adopt prohibitions against these practices, recognizing them as harmful, unnecessary and ultimately unsustainable. Passing this legislation can make a major difference to putting an end to the illegal wildlife trafficking of these animals and their parts, along with the suffering that goes along with this practice. The Environment Committee’s public hearing is Wednesday, March 3. You can still take action by emailing your support of SB-925 to (copy your legislator on your email and follow up with a phone call). 

Kathleen Magner is Sierra Club Connecticut’s Wildlife Committee Chair.

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