AboutZoos, Since 2008


A conservationist’s con­tro­versy regard­ing hunt­ing lions for pleasure

pub­lished 24 August 2011 | mod­i­fied 05 Jan­u­ary 2012

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.

(Sources: the Guardian, 01.03.2011; Pan­thera, March 2011)

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