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.
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)