DARIEN — In June 2015, Cecil, an African lion living on a Zimbabwe National Park for study, was lured out of his sanctuary and killed by an American dentist. Cecil was just one of thousands of animals killed every year for trophy hunting. Yet, his story touched the hearts of many, even across the ocean and worlds away.

Friends of Animals, an animal advocacy organization with headquarters in Darien, took Cecil’s story to heart. Now they’re working on getting a new law passed in his name. Cecil’s Law, created by the group, would ban the importation, sale, possession and transportation of African elephants, lions, leopards and black and white rhinos, otherwise known as “The Big Five” of African wildlife (This is a term coined by hunters in reference to these animals being the most difficult to hunt). The ban would include animal body parts, preventing hunters from bringing back the heads of these animals to add to what Nicole Rivard, a correspondent for Friends of Animals, describes as a “wall of shame.” Rivard has been speaking to legislators, working to help pass the law in New York and Connecticut.

“For us, it’s about showing people how horrific and prevalent trophy hunting is when introducing this law,” she said. “We introduced it to legislators, now we’re introducing it to the public.”

Last year’s Cecil’s Law was passed in the Connecticut state senate but was never voted on by the house due to a discussion of budget issues. Sen. Bob Duff is reintroducing the legislation in January. Rivard will be testifying in front of the senate again and Friends of Animals is hiring a lobbyist to make sure the law makes it to the house this time. The bill is also being introduced in New York by Sen. Tony Avella, which is one of the top entry points for importing hunting trophies.

Friends of Animals is hoping support from the public will help ensure Cecil’s Law is not passed over again this year.

“The public is going to move the bill forward because they’ll be the ones contacting legislators on it,” Rivard said. “We want everyone to be calling legislators. We’re harnessing the backlash of what happened to Cecil.”

More Information

According to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, these communities have been issued the most permits for trophy hunting out of all towns in Connecticut:

Greenwich

North Haven

Norwalk

Berlin

Stamford

Westport

Weston

Easton

Southington

Middletown

To view “ Money Doesn’t Make it Ok,” visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSGHqoobMpU&feature=youtu.be

For more information on Friends of Animals, visit https://www.friendsofanimals.org/

Moving forward, the group hopes to go into public schools to educate students on trophy hunting and compel them to contact lawmakers about it. They also hope to introduce the bill in California and Texas. However, the group considers the success of the law in Connecticut and New York as strong starting points. According to literature put out by Friends of Animals, 159,144 animals killed during overseas hunting expeditions were imported into New York between 2005 and 2014. In Connecticut, 65 trophy hunting permits were granted over the past ten years.

“These animals are shot with ease and it’s all for vain, glorious purposes,” said Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Trophy hunters that feel defensive say the meat feeds a village. I promise you people aren’t eating rhinos and elephants.”

“It really is about the trophies or you wouldn’t be importing anything,” she added.

Feral, who has spent time in Africa doing work for Friends of Animals, said the village people these trophy hunters say they’re feeding eat locally grown food and livestock, such as goats or chickens. Regardless, she says she believes no one should ever be eating these species.

“There are people who feel powerful doing this and think money makes it okay,” she said, referencing the money wealthy Americans pay to go on hunting trips in Africa. “We’re saying no. You can’t justify it morally or scientifically.”

Money not justifying hunting is the concept behind Friends of Animal’s latest campaign to promote the law. “Money Doesn’t Make it Ok” was created by an advertising agency called Chemistry Atlanta shows the irony of justifying hunting with money by comparing it to other criminal acts that could be justified the same way. The campaign will also include posters, featuring animals and their “price,” to be hung around Brooklyn and Manhattan, targeting the area with one of the top ports for trophy hunting. The campaign will also be featured in Facebook and Instagram ads in hopes of getting through to the wealthy people who partake in trophy hunting.

“They make the argument the money goes towards conservation,” Rivard said. “But the governments are so corrupt, it doesn’t go towards conservation. It just doesn’t happen.”

Part of the group’s push to end trophy hunting has to do with the threat of extinction of these species.

“Are animals in Africa made extinct from hunting? Yes,” Feral said. “These are critically endangered animals and they are the subjects of this law.”

The women say the aim of the law is not to change people’s minds about trophy hunting or end it altogether but is a small step to make it more difficult for the people who partake in it.

“These [hunters] are people who need to be out priced, outnumbered,” Feral said. “You can’t talk to people with no moral fiber on the respect we owe to wildlife. We’ve heard it all. Their ideas are decadent, corrupt and need to be defeated. We can prevent extinction one regulation at a time.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata