Updated Thursday, July 30 5:43 p.m.
TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A New Jersey lawmaker is proposing legislation that would ban game trophies of threatened or endangered species from coming through airports controlled by the Port Authority as outrage grows over the killing of a protected lion in Zimbabwe.
Assemblyman Tim Eustace, D-Bergen/Passaic, said he hopes the proposed ban at Newark International, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports would “serve as a disincentive for killing endangered animals for sport.”
“Are we going to be the ugly American forever, or are we going to be the people that people look up to?” Eustace told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.
“The hope is to discourage it to come through our ports in New Jersey,” Eustace said. “Let it go somewhere else. At least we can stand up and say, ‘We’re people who do not put up with this sort of thing.'”
Two men in Zimbabwe are accused of helping a Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer, lure and kill a protected lion named Cecil.
The Zimbabwe men faced a judge in Africa on Wednesday, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
The head of Zimbabwe’s safari association said the killing was unethical and can’t even be classified as a hunt, since the lion had been illegally lured into the kill zone.
A conservation group said the men had tied a dead animal to their car to lure the lion out of a national park. Palmer is believed to have shot and wounded the lion with a crossbow. The wounded lion was found 40 hours later, and the conservation group says Palmer then fatally shot it.
Cecil was being studied by an Oxford University research program. A conservation group says he was known for his characteristic black mane as he was regularly spotted by tourists in the park over the last 13 years.
The lion’s death sparked outrage on social media. His office was still closed Thursday. Supporters ripped down signs and tossed stuffed animals that had been placed in front of the building.
“If you were going to do something like that, be a man and actually go out in the wild where the animal has the chance to get some revenge against you,” said protester Christoper Flugge.
In a statement, Palmer has said he wasn’t aware that the lion was protected and that he relied on local guides to ensure that he was acting legally.
“I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite — until the end of the hunt,” Palmer said. “I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt.”
Zimbabwean authorities have said they are seeking Palmer on poaching charges, but Palmer says he hasn’t heard from authorities.
Laury Parramore of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the agency is “currently gathering facts about the issue and will assist Zimbabwe officials in whatever manner requested.”
On Thursday, the Fish and Wildlife Service tweeted: “We’re investigating the killing of #CecilTheLion. Will go where facts lead. We ask Dr. Palmer or his rep to contact USFWS immediately.”
The agency proposed last year to list the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Such a move could limit the importation of African lion carcasses into the United States from some countries. But that rule has not yet been made final.
Eustace also called on the federal government Wednesday to upgrade the status of the African lion to “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Experts say there are about 30,000 lions remaining in Africa.
He is also proposing separate legislation that would add “threatened” animals to New Jersey’s “Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act.”
Eustace travels each summer with a charity to Kenya, which no longer allows hunting of lions.
“Are we going to tolerate the idea that you should be able to hunt lions in this day and age?” he said.
John Janelli, a big game hunter, has shipped his fair share of trophies, including an African Cape buffalo, from overseas to his home in Hudson County. Like many trophy takers, he argues the big fees safari hunters pay to fund anti-poaching efforts and encourage Africans to not encroach on the lions’ habitat.
“I’ve seen first-hand how the big-game hunting dollars we spend as Americans and Europeans can turn a clinic into a hospital,” he said.
As for Eustace’s proposal, Janelli said: “There is already over-regulation on the books that govern endangered species.”
New York lawmakers plan to introduce a similar bill, Aiello reported.
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