(Reuters) - Delta Air Lines banned shipments of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo trophies on its aircraft on Monday amid international outrage over the killing of Zimbabwe's most famous lion by a American hunter.
The No. 2 U.S. passenger carrier is the only American airline to fly directly between the United States and Johannesburg.
Delta said in a statement the ban was effective immediately.
A roiling debate over species conservation has followed the killing in Zimbabwe of 13-year-old Cecil the lion by Minneapolis dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer, as well as a second lion killing by an American dentist, Jan Seski of Pittsburgh.
Authorities in Zimbabwe have launched investigations into both killings.
Palmer said he killed the lion in a hunt he believed was legal. Seski has made no public statement.
Before Delta's ban, the airline's policy required "absolute compliance with all government regulations regarding protected species," it said.
Delta will also review policies on accepting other hunting trophies with government agencies and other organizations that support legal shipments, the airline said.
Nearly 400,000 people signed a Change.org petition that was started by a Delta customer calling for the airline to stop transporting exotic hunting trophies, the organization said.
The most popular Change.org petition, which has gotten 1 million signatures, calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list African lions as a threatened species and punishment for those involved in Cecil's death.
The United States has the world's most powerful animal protection law, the Endangered Species Act, which has been extended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to many non-U.S. species including the African elephant and cheetah.
Adding the African lion to the U.S. list would not prohibit trophy hunting but it would require a permit from the service to import lions or their body parts to the United States.
(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and Jeffrey Dastin in New York City; Editing by Scott Malone, Doina Chiacu)