Latest Lion Aid News

Conservation of African Lions through better consensus

So maybe it is time to adopt a new approach by entering into a dialogue with the professional hunters themselves.

One might think that the chances of involving trophy hunters in an overall plan to conserve African lions, including a voluntary ban on further lion hunting, might seem as doomed as a dodo. Radical animal rightists have some choice epithets for trophy hunters in general, basically labelling them as an amoral bunch who delight in taking animal life to fulfil some inner drive to demonstrate their superiority. Similarly, the radicals among the hunters dismiss the anti-hunting faction as a bunch of bunny hugging nuts who have nothing better to do with their lives than chant slogans and then head home to a satisfying bowl of broccoli. 
In other words, the issue is becoming ever more polarized by extreme positions, and seems to be taking on a fanaticism where no further discussion is possible. But is that true?

The issue is complicated but not impossible, and there remains common ground that can be explored, as both sides at least express the desire to conserve lions, and reason could prevail.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of both sides, beginning with the hunting community.

They begin by saying that the lion situation is not as dire as others (including LionAid) would have the international community believe. They have hired scientists to re-assess lion numbers in a number of countries, and have contributed to the costs of a number of regional and national meetings in Africa where overall lion conservation plans are discussed (and hopefully acted on). The hunters have proved willing to adopt the recommendations of scientists like Craig Packer at the University of Minnesota with long experience in the Serengeti that no male lion less than 6 years old should be hunted, to promote sustainable offtake. In addition, the hunters point out that lands leased to hunting companies together form vast expanses of land that is therefore made available to wildlife, and that such lands are often not suitable for other wildlife income such as tourism as they are either too remote and/or too uninteresting to tourists who want to see big concentrations of animals. Finally, the hunters say that they are contributing positively to wildlife attitudes among African communities who would otherwise use the land for domestic stock, that the hunting companies’ contribution to antipoaching activities greatly contributes to overall wildlife conservation, and that their profits partially accrue to communities in terms of providing schools, clinics, and sources of clean water like boreholes.

The hunters say they are willing to contribute to further research, to pay higher prices for lion trophies, and to accept that on a lion safari they will largely accept not shooting a male lion that is underage. Other suggestions include penalties for operators who do encourage clients to shoot underage lions, a “lion endorsement” on a professional hunter’s licence that can be cancelled if underage lions are taken, and a requirement to much better “recognise” lions in the hunting areas to prevent shooting a pride male whatever his age.

On the negative side of the hunters’ arguments, it has been shown that overhunting is common, young males are taken regardless of recommendations, there is a reluctance to allow trophies to be confiscated at origin or at destination if independently assessed as being too young, and that despite the evidence of a declining population (not by their scientists but by others) lions should continue to be hunted. In fact, to “facilitate” lion hunting, they believe the use of baits and hides for the hunter should not be discouraged despite the concept of “fair chase” espoused by hunting organizations. And there is a need to see much more evidence of profit-sharing by communities to be convinced of realistic involvement.

So now to the opposite side of the coin.

Those who believe in animal rights think sport hunting is an abomination and an atavistic activity that should be banned. Wildlife has an intrinsic right to existence beyond finance, and if monetary value is to be placed it should accrue through non-consumptive tourism. African communities should better share in the profits from such tourism, and nationally gazetted areas should be better protected. Acknowledging that much of the decline in lion populations in Africa is due to human-wildlife conflict, communities living with wildlife should have much better private and/or public compensation programmes to prevent retribution, and “non-use” programmes improved to reward communities that do better than others to maintain wildlife outside protected areas.

On the negative side of those arguments, wildlife photographic tourism enterprises have been shown equally rapacious of profits as hunting organizations. Though they attest that associated communities profit, independent assessment is lacking. Compensation has failed to date to convince communities to live with lions. “Non-use” programmes are non-existent. Anti-hunting proponents do not donate anywhere near what the pro-hunting community does to any sort of lion conservation programme. 

So where do we go from here? Do we all continue to oversee and permit the decline of lions as has been the trend so far? 

First, LionAid proposes that trophy hunting of lions should be severely curtailed (at least), and we also believe that with the right approach, major hunting organizations and professional hunting associations will entertain this proposal by virtue of reason. Second, conservation organizations concerned with lions should begin to present a united front that is based on reason and the anticipation of effectiveness.  Third, any proposed overall lion conservation programme should involve all parties to ensure that African communities realistically see the benefits of maintaining wildlife that is after all under their ultimate stewardship. Fourth, let’s keep constructive dialogue open to all parties and seek innovative and acceptable solutions. And lastly – extreme opinions do not contribute to a necessary dialogue for the future conservation of lions?

Dialogue is needed, and resolutions need to be found. This does not necessarily imply a surrender of principles, far from it. Divergent positions have grown from an absence of progress and an entrenchment of opinions. Everyone needs to take a step back and think – it is not too late to retreat from the edge of the cliff. Lions are not yet in the category of tigers and we hope they will never be, but this will take effort.

Picture credit :

Posted by Pieter Kat at 00:00

No comments have been posted yet.

Add a new comment

Existing user

New user sign up