A coalition of wildlife conservation organisations called on US regulators to ban the import of lion trophies and parts by listing the African lions as endangered species in US law. This would, by and large, create a total hunting ban. As Americans are the world’s biggest buyers of lion carcasses and body parts, including claws, skulls, bones and penises, and high numbers of American hunters import lion parts as personal trophies from their safaris.
Two-thirds of the lions hunted for sport were killed by Americans and brought to America over the last 10 years. These hunters target full-grown male lions. Killing alpha males disrupt prides, because they will be replaced by other males who firstly kill the offspring of their predecessor. When hunting quota are very large this will lead to very limited numbers of cubs being able to survive and maintain the species’ existence. A hunting ban, the conservationists said, would reduce that threat by taking Americans out of the game.
But, the hunters are not the only threat to the lions’ survival. There is also a lot of pressure on lion habitats with wilderness areas declining because of roads — such as the controversial highway across the Serengeti — or increasing agriculture, like crops and cattle.
The envisaged consequence is the extinction of the African lion according the organisations, which include IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife. The number of wild African lions has fallen sharply in the last century. Their numbers decreased from as many as 200,000 to fewer than 40,000. Lions already have become extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries — Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe — are believed to contain more than 1,000 lions each, according to Panthera.
However, other wildlife experts argue that a total hunting ban is a “nuclear option”. Their unofficial spokesman Luke Hunter of Panthera argues that responsible hunting could in some cases help conserve populations by maintaining wilderness areas.
Although there is absolutely no doubt that far too many lions are being shot for sport and Dr. Hunter (what’s in a name) thinks hunting for pleasure is repellent, he argues that the income generated by safaris is essential to preserve lion habitats. He states that empirical science has shown that over-hunting is bad for lions, but also demonstrates that hunting can be sustainable. By setting very conservative quotas and raising age limits to ensure that older male lions are targeted, the worst effects of lion hunting can be mitigated. In addition, hunting safaris, with American hunters being by far the largest market, provide African governments with the economic argument to sustain wilderness for safari areas. Without this kind of sustenance, cattle and crops — wiping out lion habitats and prey — would be the alternative.
“As unpalatable as it may be, until we find alternative mechanisms to generate the hard cash required to protect wilderness in Africa, hunting remains the most convincing model for many wild areas”, according to Luke Hunter.