Three American airlines – Delta, United and American Airlines – have banned the shipment of big-game trophies on flights after the illegal killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.
They would no longer transport lion, rhinoceros, leopard, elephant or buffalo remains, the airlines announced.
The airlines have not, however, given official reasons for their announcements.
Delta flies direct to a number of African cities and was subjected to an online petition to ban such shipments.
American Airlines and United fly to fewer sub-Saharan cities than Delta, but United said in a tweet its decision to stop carrying trophies was “effective immediately”.
United spokesman Charles Hobart said: “We felt it made sense to do so.”
Cecil the lion was shot illegally in July by American dentist Walter Palmer of Minnesota. Zimbabwe is seeking his extradition and that of a doctor from Pennsylvania, named as Jan Casimir Seski, who is suspected of killing another lion in April.
Walter Palmer is believed to have paid about $50,000 to hunt Cecil, a major tourist attraction in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.
He says he thought the hunt was legal and was unaware Cecil was protected, but the killing triggered a huge online backlash.
Delta would not answer questions from journalists as to why it made its decision on August 3, nor would it detail how many hunting trophies it has transported in recent years.
“Effective immediately, Delta will officially ban shipment of all lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies worldwide as freight,” Delta said in a brief statement.
Its announcement came as several other airlines indicated that they are – or soon will be – stopping the transport of all trophy-hunting kills.
As recently as May, Delta said it would continue to allow such shipments.
Delta and Southwest flights have been searched by police at Atlanta’s airport after “credible” bomb threats, US officials say.
Airport spokesman Reese McCranie said the threats were received against Delta and Southwest flights coming from Portland and Milwaukee respectively.
Reese McCranie said both planes had landed safely and had been evacuated.
Two US fighter jets escorted the planes into the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The airport later said no bombs were found.
In a tweet, Atlanta airport officials wrote: “All clear for both aircraft & normal airport operations have resumed. Thank you for your patience. Safety & security are our top priorities.”
The bomb threats were made online – reportedly on Twitter.
A bomb squad and sniffer dogs were involved in the police search after the planes landed.
Southwest said in a statement: “Our top priority is the safety of our customers and employees. We cannot comment on the nature of the security situation.”
Reuters quoted Southwest as saying that 86 passengers were on board the flight, and that they were being re-screened.
There was no immediate comment from Delta officials.
The busy Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is home to Delta, serving nearly 100 million passengers.
This is not the first airport bomb scare in the US this week.
On January 19, New York’s JFK airport was at the centre of another threat, involving at least one aircraft. No bomb was found.
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European and US airlines have suspended flights into Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport after a rocket landed one mile away.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered three US carriers that fly to Israel – Delta, United and US Airways – to halt flights for 24 hours.
European carriers Lufthansa, KLM, and Air France have also cancelled flights to Tel Aviv.
The move comes amid heightened scrutiny over flights near conflict zones.
Israel’s Transportation Ministry asked the airlines to reverse their decision, saying the airport was “safe for landings and departures”.
“Ben Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize,” it said in a statement.
The FAA ordered three US carriers to halt Israel flights for 24 hours
The FAA’s prohibition only applies to US airlines. The agency has no authority over foreign airlines operating to or from the airport.
However, Lufthansa – which includes Swiss, Germanwings and Austrian Airlines – said it had decided to suspend flights to Israel for two days.
Air France and KLM also said they had suspended flights scheduled to depart on Tuesday.
However, Air France said a flight scheduled for Wednesday is still scheduled to depart.
Delta said a flight from New York City to Tel Aviv was diverted to Paris on Tuesday after Israeli police confirmed that a rocket landed approximately one mile from Ben Gurion airport.
Both and United said they had suspended operations in Israel for the near future – beyond the FAA’s 24-hr period.
US Airways said it had not yet made a decision.
British Airways wrote on Twitter: “We are closely monitoring the situation. Our flights are currently operating as scheduled.”
The halt in service comes less than a week after Israel began a ground operation in Gaza, and as airlines around the world re-think their flight paths over conflict areas in the wake of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.
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