The killing of Cecil the lion brought an old controversy around the conservation of African lions back to the fore front.
What’s happened since the death of Cecil
Lion trophy hunting rocketed to the world’s attention with Cecil the lion’s death. With that the controversy over the real effect that trophy hunting has on wild lions was raised once again.
Some, like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, believe firmly in trophy hunting’s negative impact. This led to him introducing the CECIL Animal Trophies Act, which aims to tamp down trophy hunting by banning importing parts of endangered animals. Others have argued that trophy hunting is a necessary evil, raising awareness for lion conservation and money for African countries’ economies simultaneously.
However, most experts now agree that trophy hunting is a devastating practice that needs to end for Africa’s lions to thrive.
Trophy hunting myths
Lion ALERT details why the main argument used by those in favor of trophy hunting, that in the end it gives money back to the community and encourages the conservation of African lions, does not stand up to scrutiny. For example, rural African communities receive little money from the lion trophy hunting business. An entire community household in Zimbabwe—around 10 people—will get at most $3 a year from it. Hunting operators receive far more (around $110/year), but they constitute a much smaller percentage of the population who have different incentives than the average African villager.
Statistics from the Economists at Large study on trophy hunting corroborates this conclusion. African countries that allow trophy hunting find that it makes up less than 2% of their GDP; meanwhile, less than 3% of hunting companies’ revenue will benefit local communities.
Despite the large amount of African land protected for trophy hunting, less than 10,000 people are employed to police it. Further, this is a seasonal job, only lasting six months. In the end, it is easy for poaching to take place on many of these trophy hunting reserves. Given how little the average community gets back from trophy hunting, it is unlikely that its existence will drive them to better protect lions.
Another problem with trophy hunting is the lions which are typically targeted. In the wild, the sick and the weak are killed, it’s simply nature’s way. But these lions make a poor prize for trophy hunters, who instead go after large, striking male lions, like Cecil. Exactly the male lions crucial for breeding a healthy and successful lion population. While many places do ask for hunters to kill lions no longer capable of breeding, the rule is rarely enforced. The average age of a lion that could be killed without disrupting breeding cycle is six; yet trophy hunters usually kill lions that are age two to three. Researcher Craig Packer found another problem with killing male lions still of breeding age. If they have cubs, they are usually killed in the resulting territory take-over by another male lion. Thus, what was originally one death to trophy hunting becomes many, some say as many as 36.
Ecotourism a viable solution
One alternative to trophy hunting is ecotourism. Ecotourism engages visitors with Africa’s biodiversity and culture, with a focus on preserving it rather than destroying it. Africa pioneered ecotourism, and now the principle around which most ecotourism is based is known as “Environment and Community Oriented” (ECO). Education often plays a large part in ecotourism, with tourists meeting local people, learning native customs, and being educated on the importance of preserving the wildlife they see. Kenya is an example of an African country whose ecotourism industry thrives.
While poaching still remains an issue, along with natural factors like drought, Kenya still has six areas that contain lions. Ecotourism does not prevent threats to wildlife, but it is better for long term preservation than trophy hunting.
Trophy hunting is a devastating practice for African wildlife, particularly lions. Arguments in favor of it—that it economically benefits local communities and thus encourages preservation—are not supported by statistics.
If lions and other African species are to be preserved, ecotourism looks to be the most promising way of engaging with wildlife that provides actual benefits for local communities. Not to forget the obvious, saving the African lion and assuring Cecil didn’t die in vain.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Cassie Sonne