On Wednesday, August 10 I woke up bright and early in order to watch the live discussion on trophy hunting and lion conservation that was hosted by National Geographic. In case you missed it, here is a brief summary of what was said: along with some of my thoughts about it.
- The speakers were Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Dr. Luke Hunter of Panthera, Dr. Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, Dr. Amy Dickman of the Ruaha Carnivore Project and the Oxford WildCRU, and Beverly and Dereck Joubert: National Geographic explorers and the filmmakers behind The Last Lions (which I highly recommend).
- Jeff Flocken was not supportive of the practice of trophy hunting. Some of his points were:
- 95% of Americans are opposed to the trophy hunting of endangered species. Note: I have been unable to locate the source of this number.
- The outrage over Cecil’s death is further evidence that the American public no longer views trophy hunting as an acceptable conservation strategy.
- Trophy hunting is going to end whether we like it or not. It is time to prepare for this.
- Dr. Luke Hunter was the most neutral of the panelists. His statements included:
- Africa’s lion numbers have declined by 43% in one decade.
- Trophy hunting can harm lion populations: but bushmeat hunting, habitat loss, and human-lion conflict are the biggest threats.
- To save lions, we need to invest in Africa. This will help to secure protected areas, bolster anti-poaching efforts, and reduce retaliatory killings of lions.
- Many African leaders are willing to end trophy hunting if enough funding can be secured.
- Dr. Craig Packer was more critical of trophy hunting than Dr. Hunter, but still relatively neutral. He said:
- There is not much reason to trust the trophy hunting industry or suspect it is good for lions.
- “The slaughter of the innocents:” male lions in hunting areas are often killed before they reach maturity.
- In Tanzania, proceeds from trophy hunting go to corrupt politicians: not local people.
- Trophy hunting is more beneficial for lion conservation in the absence of such corruption.
- Despite the aforementioned drawbacks, a universal ban on trophy hunting is not advisable.
- Dr. Amy Dickman was the least opposed to trophy hunting. She argued:
- Trophy hunting can maintain habitat for wildlife.
- The only countries that have seen significant recent increases in lion populations have been ones that allowed trophy hunting.
- Note: According to the IUCN Red List, the positive outcomes in these nations (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe) are likely the result of relatively low human population densities and sufficient funding for conservation.
- The IUCN does not list trophy hunting as a key factor in the growth of lion populations in these countries. Botswana, one of the four, does not even allow lion hunting.
- Tourism alone is not a viable alternative to trophy hunting.
- Issues such as human-lion conflict are more significant threats to lions than trophy hunting.
- The Jouberts were definitely opposed to trophy hunting. According to them:
- More young male lions are being hunted, because too many of the mature ones have been killed.
- Killing a pride male creates social disruptions that could lead to the deaths of 23 additional lions.
- Trophy hunting is often not fair-chase.
- Local people feel disenfranchised because elite Westerners are allowed to kill lions and they are not.
- Tourism can work.
- The Jouberts took over a hunting concession in Botswana after all but two lionesses had been killed.
- Photo tourism was far more successful than trophy hunting in all regards: the lion population recovered.
- In Botswana, the poaching of lions was highest when trophy hunting was legal. This is because legal killings masked illegal ones.
- All participants agreed that lion conservation requires a massive increase in funding. Dr. Packer called for $2 billion from the international community, whereas Dr. Hunter suggested $1 billion was enough.
I found this to be an informative discussion that broadened my knowledge on the relationship between lion conservation and trophy hunting. All of the panelists brought up important points, but I found Jeff Flocken’s comments about the declining public support for the trophy hunting of endangered species to be the most poignant.
It does seem that the sport hunting of lions is on the way out. Besides, people are more willing to support those figures whom they feel share their values (Kahan, 2010). Conservation organizations that are perceived to favor trophy hunting may thus face mounting criticism as public values shift. Therefore it is time to decrease our reliance on the trophy hunting of endangered species as a conservation strategy.
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.