Second major U.S. airline bans shipment of big game trophies

Last Updated Aug 4, 2015 8:11 AM EDT

New York -- American Airlines announced on Monday that it will no longer carry shipments of big game trophy animals, including rhino, elephant, leopard, buffalo, or lion carcasses, CBS News correspondent Anna Werner reports. The airline doesn't serve Africa, so the move is largely symbolic.

Delta, which does fly to the African continent, announced its ban hours earlier, and United Airlines already prohibits the shipments.

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In April, South Africa Airways passed the first ban on big game trophy animals. Since then, Lufthansa, British Airways and Emirates have followed suit. However, South Africa Airways said it was reversing its decision, saying the state-owned company had to meet the "expectations and objectives of its shareholder, the South African government."

Big game hunters have felt a backlash since Cecil the lion was killed by a Minnesota dentist, Werner reports, but they insist that hunting, done ethically, benefits endangered animals through millions of dollars funneled into conservation efforts.

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"Those of us who care deeply about these animals, ethical and humane treatment, we were sickened by what we've seen," said North Carolina attorney Kieran Shanahan, who calls himself a, "conservation hunter."

Shanahan has hunted in three African countries, and among his trophies are a lion and an elephant.

"Nothing that I've ever shot, or conservation hunters will shoot, are endangered in any way," he says. "The government has blessed and given permits for everything that a conservation hunter, including myself, has ever hunted."

Supporters say hunting puts a tangible value on animals, and that it gives locals an incentive to protect them and preserve their habitats, Werner reports.

A 2005 study in the Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy credited, "limited and sustainable use, through trophy hunting and live sales," with helping to bring the African white rhino back from the brink of extinction.

"We know and believe that if we do it properly, that we actually sustain the herds," Shanahan said. "They're healthier herds, and they'll protect these animals so they'll live for generations."

But Wayne Pacelle, who is president of the Humane Society of the U.S., said trophy hunters target some of the biggest, most magnificent animals, which is bad for species health. Creatures that are killed cannot reproduce and pass on their genes to future generations.

"We don't see any rationale to kill animals just as a head-hunting exercise," Pacelle said. "It's pointless. It's one thing to kill animals for food. It's another to kill them just for their heads."

Furthermore, he said the trophy hunting industry is small and shrinking, but safari tourism is booming.

Though some estimates say hunting generates $200 million annually for remote areas of Africa, a 2013 report prepared for the African Lion Coalition, of which the Humane Society of the U.S. is a part, found that just 3% of hunting revenue ends up in local communities.

"This one trophy hunter paid $50,000 dollars to kill this big, male, black-maned lion," Pacelle said. "There's no question that thousands of people came to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe just to see Cecil. He would have generated millions of dollars if he had been allowed to live."

But Shanahan thinks recent high profile lion killings have given all big game hunters a bad name.

"When you see something like this horrific incident that we had, where someone doesn't go by conservation hunting rules, doesn't get the permits, engages in illegal activity, it undermines all the good that conservation hunting has done," Shanahan said.