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Tro­phy hunt­ing of lions can aid in con­ser­va­tion of lions

pub­lished 30 Sep­tem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 30 Sep­tem­ber 2016

Lioness in NamibiaNew research has found that con­trolled tro­phy hunt­ing of lions can actu­ally help con­serve the species, but only in areas where hunt­ing com­pa­nies are given long-​term land man­age­ment rights.

One year after the world­wide con­tro­versy when an Amer­i­can den­tist and recre­ational hunter killed Cecil the Lion out­side Hwange National Park in Zim­babwe, the researchers say hunt­ing can work as a con­ser­va­tion tool, but that an over­haul of the sys­tem is required in order to encour­age hunt­ing com­pa­nies to pri­ori­tise sus­tain­abil­ity over prof­its. Their find­ings are pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS ONE.

Com­pa­nies who have secured long-​term use rights to nat­ural resources are more likely to man­age them sustainably
Dr Henry Brink, lead author, Uni­ver­sity of Kent »

Although it may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive, most lion con­ser­va­tion­ists agree that tro­phy hunt­ing can play a key role in con­serv­ing the species. Lions need large pro­tected areas to thrive, but man­ag­ing this land is expen­sive: in devel­op­ing coun­tries, the oper­at­ing bud­gets for pro­tected areas only cover an aver­age of 30% of costs, and the fees raised from tro­phy hunt­ing can cover some of this short­fall, mak­ing it finan­cially fea­si­ble to pro­tect lion habi­tat instead of devel­op­ing it for other pur­poses. How­ever, the researchers say the sys­tem is in need of reform if the species is to be pro­tected in the long term.

The researchers, from the Uni­ver­si­ties of Kent, Cam­bridge and Queens­land, stud­ied lion pop­u­la­tion trends between 1996 and 2008 in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. Tan­za­nia is home to up to half of the world’s free-​ranging lions and is also the main loca­tion for lion tro­phy hunt­ing in Africa.

The game reserve, which is a strong­hold for the species, is divided into blocks in which hunt­ing rights are allo­cated to dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies. The gov­ern­ment leases the land to the hunt­ing com­pa­nies, enforces hunt­ing reg­u­la­tion and allo­cates the com­pa­nies a species-​specific annual quota per block.

The researchers found that in areas where com­pa­nies were allo­cated a par­tic­u­lar block of land over a short time period (less than ten years), the num­bers of lions killed, and the num­bers of tro­phy species killed over­all, were higher than the rec­om­mended num­bers. In addi­tion, annual finan­cial returns were higher for these lands under short-​term management.

In con­trast, in blocks that were allo­cated to the same com­pany for ten years or more, the num­ber of off­takes, or licensed lion kills, were at level that were sus­tain­able for the species, while also main­tain­ing their habitat.

Com­pa­nies who have secured long-​term use rights to nat­ural resources are more likely to man­age them sus­tain­ably,” said Dr Henry Brink from the Uni­ver­sity of Kent. “This is an impor­tant les­son for lion con­ser­va­tion, as loss of habi­tat means this species is increas­ingly restricted to pro­tected areas.”

This research also sup­ports calls to change the hunt­ing fee sys­tem in Tan­za­nia. “At present, the gov­ern­ment sells hunt­ing block fees cheaply, and raises more by set­ting high quo­tas and high fees for each tro­phy ani­mal shot, which encour­ages those who are only allo­cated blocks over the short-​term to shoot more lions, at the expense of long-​term sus­tain­abil­ity and prof­its,” said Pro­fes­sor Nigel Leader-​Williams from Cambridge’s Depart­ment of Geog­ra­phy, the study’s senior author. “Increas­ing block fees, reduc­ing tro­phy fees and reduc­ing the hunt­ing quota could bring in the same tax rev­enue, while reduc­ing the temp­ta­tion of hunters to kill more lions.”

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of Cam­bridge news release, 23.09.2016)

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