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British hunters have killed at least 60 lions 每 and probably more 每 since the shooting of Cecil in 2015, as a promised government ban on trophy imports has been delayed again.

Official figures reveal dozens of bodies, skins and other parts of the endangered animal have been brought into the UK from Africa in the past five years.

The data also show the European Union imports more lion trophies than any country, allowing the species to be driven dangerously towards extinction, experts say.

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After the killing 每 exactly five years ago 每 of Cecil in Zimbabwe by a US dentist prompted an international outcry, ministers promised to ban imports of lion trophies by 2017. The promise was also included in last year*s Tory election manifesto, and in February, Boris Johnson told Parliament he would deliver a ban.

Numbers of wild lions have tumbled from about 450,000 in the 1950s to 20,000 in 2015 to an estimated 15,000 now. It*s feared there could be as few as 13,000.

Wild lions face the threat of extinction within three decades if populations continue to fall, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has previously warned. Conservationists have described the decline as ※heartbreaking§.

Ministers last year announced a public consultation on a ban, which ended in February, but officials say the outcome has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The consultation included the option of stricter requirements or a ban on parts of only certain species.

But analysis of numbers from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which regulates trade, reveals lion bodies, as well as skins, skulls, claws and feet, have been legally brought into the UK. A conservative reading of the database suggests that represents between 53 and 77 dead lions.

But if the body parts were listed not as trophies but for personal, educational or commercial trade, the number of imports to the UK is 154.

Eduardo Goncalves, author of a new book on trophy hunting and founder of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: ※The government promised to ban lion trophies after the killing of Cecil. Then it changed its mind. As a result, British hunters shot another 50 or more &Cecils*.

※Now it*s saying again that it wants to ban hunting trophies. We cannot have any more dithering or delay. Nine out of 10 voters want this stopped.

※Wildlife is on the brink. There is now a real prospect of lions becoming extinct in the wild.§

Other Cites data reveal the EU is the world*s largest importer of lion trophies compared with non-EU countries. The EU imported 406 lion trophies in 2017 and 2018, including 18 trophies of wild lions in Zimbabwe like Cecil.

Within the EU, Spain imported the most lion trophies 每 84 每 in the two years.

Claire Bass, Humane Society International/UK*s executive director, said: ※Cecil*s senseless killing exposed trophy hunting as immensely cruel, completely unnecessary and morally bankrupt. And yet, five years on from his tragic death, Britain and the European Union are still providing a market for this horrific hobby.§

The public were outraged when Walter Palmer shot Cecil, a protected lion and one of Zimbabwe*s most loved animals, on 1 July 2015. It led to calls for his extradition to Zimbabwe, and he became the target of threats and protests. A professional hunter was cleared over the death.

In answer to MPs who have questioned the delay, minister Victoria Prentis said the government was continuing to work on the issue and would publish its response as soon as it was practical. ※The outcome of the consultation, and the accompanying call for evidence, will inform our next steps,§ she added.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: ※There is a clear manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals and we continue to work to end this shocking trade.§

The Independent has also asked the European Commission to comment.

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