Review of Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis

León by Ligiera. CC0 1.0 Public Domain.
León by Ligiera. CC0 1.0 Public Domain.

The killing of Cecil the lion last year drew international attention to the problems associated with trophy hunting. Shortly thereafter, a crucial study revealed that lion populations in some areas are plummeting. Africa’s lion numbers have declined by 43% percent in the past twenty years (Funston et al., 2016), and within the next two decades they could drop by another 50% in Central and West Africa (Panthera, 2015c).

The NGOs Panthera, WildAid, and the Oxford WildCRU have launched the Let Lions Live campaign to counter this trend. Their goal is to motivate mass action to prevent the loss of the most iconic animal on Earth, the lion (Panthera leo).

As part of the Let Lions Live campaign, the above organizations have released a report called Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis. Its purpose seems to be to educate the public about the dire situation surrounding lions, and on what can be done about it. I have read this report, and have summarized it below.

The illegal killing of Cecil the lion shocked the world into acknowledging both the pitfalls of trophy hunting and the dire situation of Africa's lions. Cecil - Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (b) by Vince O'Sullivan. CC BY-NC 2.0
The illegal killing of Cecil the lion shocked the world into acknowledging both the pitfalls of trophy hunting and the dire situation facing Africa’s lions. Cecil – Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe (b) by Vince O’Sullivan. CC BY-NC 2.0
Beyond Cecil Key Points
  • The underlying factor giving rise to all the major threats to Panthera leo is habitat loss.
  • The principal threats born from habitat loss are bushmeat poaching (the illegal hunting of wildlife for food) and human-lion conflict.
    • Bushmeat hunting harms lions in two ways: by depleting their prey and by directly killing lions who get caught in poachers’ snares.
    • Human-lion conflict is the term used to describe the killings of lions that take place in response to the perceived threats the cats pose to livestock.
  • Trophy hunting is harmful to lion populations in many cases, but it is a smaller concern than the previous two.
  • Lions are increasingly being featured in Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM). This practice has decimated tiger populations, and has the potential to do the same to lions.
  • There are many protected areas (PAs) in Africa, but most of them are underfunded and under-protected.
  • The most important step to reverse the lion’s decline is to bolster Africa’s PAs.
  • Outside of PAs, the most crucial action is to reduce human-lion conflict by better protecting livestock.
  • Trophy hunting needs to be seriously reformed, but if it ends then other strategies will be needed to generate conservation funding (Funston et al., 2016).
The authors of Beyond Cecil acknowledged that in many cases trophy hunting negatively affects lion populations. But they argued for heavily reforming the way hunting is conducted, rather than ending it right now.
The authors of Beyond Cecil acknowledge that in many cases trophy hunting negatively affects lion populations. But they advocate for reforming the way hunting is conducted, rather than ending it. The main obstacle to the latter move seems to be the need for funding. Lion Hunting Trophy by Joel Abroad. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Review

Overall I feel that Beyond Cecil is spot-on. It does a great job of summarizing the threats facing Africa’s lions, and the proposed solutions fit with many of the scientific articles I have been reading. Most importantly, it is written in language that will be easy for the public to understand.

However, I do have one critique. I find Beyond Cecil’s description of human-lion conflict to be overly simplistic. The report focuses entirely on the retaliatory aspect of this conflict; it gives the impression that farmers only kill lions because the cats harm livestock, and that it can be resolved by safeguarding livestock from attack.

Depredation on livestock probably is the main driver of human-lion conflict in many cases, and the techniques proposed in Beyond Cecil can be tremendously helpful. But multiple studies have found that human-wildlife conflicts are motivated by a wide range of factors, not just damage to livestock (Dickman, 2010; Dickman, Marchini, & Manfredo, 2013; Hazzah, 2006; Knight, 2000; Madden & McQuinn, 2014; Marchini & Macdonald, 2012; Naughton-Treves, Grossberg, & Treves, 2003; Rust, Tzanopoulos, Humle, & MacMillan, 2016).

In Kenya, Leela Hazzah (2006) found that the propensity to kill lions was influenced by a diverse range of social, historical, and economic factors. In Namibia, Rust et al. (2016) learned that human-carnivore conflict was largely driven by the racist treatment of African workers. The latter authors even said, “In Namibia, if conflict between humans and carnivores is to be mitigated, the conflict between farmers and workers must first be addressed” (Rust et al., 2016, p. 12). So while safeguarding livestock is important, it is equally necessary to spend time listening to local people and getting a sense for their situations before pushing too hard for any changes.

While investigating human-jaguar conflict in the Brazilian Pantanal, Marchini and Macdonald (2012) found that predation on livestock was only an indirect predictor of ranchers' intentions to kill jaguars. Therefore one should approach human-carnivore conflict with an open mind, rather than assuming it is always directly linked to the most obvious causes. Jaguar-Brazil2010k-4049.jpg by Dagget2. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
While investigating human-jaguar conflict in the Brazilian Pantanal, Marchini and Macdonald (2012) found that predation on livestock was only an indirect predictor of ranchers’ intentions to kill jaguars. Therefore one should approach human-carnivore conflicts with an open mind, rather than assuming they are always most closely linked to the most obvious causes. Jaguar-Brazil2010k-4049.jpg by Dagget2. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Conclusion

Beyond Cecil does an excellent job of educating the public about what needs to happen to save Africa’s lions. I find its description of human-lion conflict to be oversimplified, especially given the wealth of information about the complexities of similar situations. Panthera does provide an example of how their proposed mitigation techniques have reduced lion mortalities in one location, which is good. But copying and pasting successful strategies into a new area has the potential to backfire; especially if local people do not feel listened to (Madden & McQuinn, 2014).

Nevertheless, this is a minor complaint that does not take away from the value of this remarkable report. I highly recommend that you click here and let lions live.

Further Reading:

*Funston, P., Henschel, P., Hunter, L., Lindsey, P., Nowak, K., Vallianos, C., … & Wood, K. (2016). Beyond Cecil: Africa’s lions in crisis. Retrieved from http://letlionslive.org/LionReport.pdf.

Hazzah, L. N. (2006). Living among lions (Panthera leo): Coexistence or killing? Community attitudes towards conservation initiatives and the motivations behind lion killing in Kenyan Maasailand (Masters dissertation). Retrieved from http://www.livingwithlions.org/MScThesis_LeelaHazzah_new.pdf.

*Madden, F., & McQuinn, B. (2014). Conservation’s blind spot: The case for conflict transformation in wildlife conservation. Biological Conservation, 178, 97-106. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2014.07.015.

Rust, N. A., Tzanopoulos, J., Humle, T., & MacMillan, D. C. (2016). Why has human-carnivore conflict not been resolved in Namibia? Society and Natural Resources, 29(9), 1079-1094. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2016.1150544.

*Highly recommended

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19 thoughts on “Review of Beyond Cecil: Africa’s Lions in Crisis

  1. Great read, I totally agree with you when you say that parts are to simplistic. We are seeing that there are many other factors that are coming into play. We have act just noticed some shocking development’s with smaller cat species in our area. Thank you for the informative read as always. Dan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dan! There has been a lot of research in the past decade showing how “messy” human-wildlife conflict can be, and that technical fixes which reduce wildlife-caused damage don’t always lead to equal decreases in the killing of those animals. So while I think the proposed solutions to human-lion conflict in the report are great, I don’t want readers to think it will be easy to solve human-lion conflict; only to feel frustrated if that proves not to be true.

      What’s happening with the smaller felids in your area?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea, the human population in some parts of Africa is growing fast, and many of those people rely on agriculture for food. There are a lot of protected areas in Africa that could help a lot, but the international community needs to invest in them to help improve them.

      I’m glad you liked the post!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is: can you even imagine explaining to someone what a lion used to be? Thankfully Cecil’s death shocked the world into realizing just how imperiled lions are, and now the international community is stepping up their efforts to conserve lions in a rapidly changing Africa.

      Also, did you recently tag me in a post? I thought I got a ping back from you, but in the chaos surrounding my move I’ve allowed it to become buried in my notifications, and now I can’t find it.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. It certainly does seem that way, doesn’t it? I’m not sure how much longer conservationists and governments can keep relying on trophy hunting to conserve big cats, because the outrage over Cecil’s death clearly showed that public sentiment no longer favors trophy hunting. Organizations that rely on public donations to survive will have to adapt to this shifting of the tides.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Eh, sometimes it’s a way to conserve them and sometimes it’s not. We’ll organized trophy hunting can help set aside habitat and generate funding for big cat conservation. But as Beyond Cecil points out, many times it contributes to the cats’ declines; although it is not as significant a threat as habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.

            And while I truly admire your willingness to admit that your opinion is uninformed, I don’t think most people will be similarly inclined to change their views on this highly-charged topic. I am personally okay with trophy hunting programs for which good evidence exists of their effectiveness, but the outrage following Cecil’s death has shown me that we’ll increasingly need to rely on other ways to generate funding for conservation. I simply don’t see any alternative, given the shift in public attitudes.

            Liked by 1 person

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