HUNTERS are still free to bring back animal trophies to the UK despite the Cecil the lion scandal .
An attempt by Brussels to impose on lion hunting in Tanzania has been blocked by British ministers, claiming the practice was “sustainable”.
The move means that hundreds of mounted lion heads and skins from animals shot in Africa can still be imported into the European Union, including Britain.
Other countries have brought in new laws banning such imports in the wake the tragic killing of Cecil in Zimbabwe this July by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer .
But at a European Union meeting in September, UK government officials opposed bringing in a similar ban.
The EU Scientific Review Group (SRG) concluded that the lion trade with Tanzania should continue.
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said: “This shameful decision will lead to the killing of hundreds more Cecils.”
A UN report this year found the lion population in Tanzania had declined from 1,787 to 608 since 1993 as a result of trophy hunting, habitat loss and illegal killings.
Despite the declining number a total of 237 lion hunting trophies, including six skins, were imported into the EU from Tanzania between 2004 – 2013, the report said.
In a letter to Ms Bearder, Environment minister Rory Stewart defended the decision not to impose an EU-wide ban.
He wrote “For lion trophies from Tanzania, the SRG reached a ‘conditional positive opinion’, allowing trade but also recommending quota changes.
“Tanzania checks the age of any lions before allowing trophy exports. They provided data to the SRG that showed this system to be working.
“It also provided data that hunting levels were below the sustainable level in all but three hunting blocks.”
The letter continued: “I can assure you that the Government is committed to ensuring the survival of lions and other wildlife.
“We will continue to monitor the impact of trophy hunting and work with EU and international partners to put in place greater protection for species where it is seen to be needed.”
Ms Bearder added: “After the tragic killing of Cecil the lion, Tory ministers promised to end unsustainable hunting. Now behind closed doors, they have supported allowing more lion hunting trophies to be brought into the EU.
“This shocking hypocrisy will lead to the killing of hundreds more Cecils. The government should oppose the cruel hunting of endangered lions, not encourage it.”
Big game hunters face a ban on importing trophies into the US in the wake of the Cecil scandal.
The US House of Representatives has passed a measure which would impose similar penalties on wildlife traffickers as those for drug and arms dealers.
Australia has also put in place a ban on trophy imports.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said Britain had agreed to allow imports from hunting in Tanzania as the trade was “currently at sustainable levels.”
A spokeswoman said: “We are committed to tackling wildlife crime. Illegal hunting of protected wildlife can never be condoned.
“The UK is leading the global response to tackling the illegal wildlife trade. This includes funding through our Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund for practical action in developing countries to support anti-poaching projects and working with our African partners to improve the security of their parks.”