A Hunter’s Heritage #3 – African Lions, Hunting and Conservation (the Cecil Effect)

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I was perusing the internet not long ago and came across an article from the UK Telegraph entitled “Cecil Effect” Leaves Park’s Lion at Risk of Cull. The killing of Cecil the lion sparked off an international outcry, almost all of which was focused on emotional reactions to trophy hunting and very little on the serious and complicated interplay of hunting and wildlife conservation in Africa. The Telegraph article reports that, because of the emotionally charged negative publicity, hunting fell off dramatically in this area of Zimbabwe and unmanaged lion populations increased so significantly that they have now become a threat to other animal populations. Populations of antelope, giraffe, cheetah, leopards and wild dogs are being decimated by the rebounding lion population. With new concern, just announced this week, over the potential extinction of giraffe, note that four out of the five populations being negatively impacted by lions are already severely threatened.

Adult male lion photographed by the author in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania in 1991.

This article may have been a mere side note had I not also run across a second one, also from the UK Telegraph, with the title Trophy Hunting Can “Help Lion Conservation” Says Government Commissioned Report. This article reports that research by Dr. David Macdonald of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, indicates that trophy hunting has positive impacts on lion conservation. In my mind, the most important conclusion of the report: “The most fundamental benefit of trophy hunting to lion conservation is that it provides a financial incentive to maintain lion habitat that might otherwise be converted to non-wildlife land uses.” This tracks well with everything I observed in East Africa and the many conversations I had with conservationists and researchers over the years. Habitat loss, not hunting, is recognized as the number one threat to wildlife populations worldwide. This is not to say that any hunting program implemented will automatically benefit conservation – the report notes that only when local people gain financial benefits through hunting do these programs work: “Where trophy hunting is well regulated, transparent and devolves sufficient authority to the land managers, it has the potential to contribute to lion conservation.” This also mirrors my own observations and discussions over the years.
It seems clear that hunting, when applied correctly, can significantly improve the health and preservation of animal populations worldwide, providing continued benefits to hunters and non-hunters alike.

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