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Canned and wild lion hunting examined


                                                           Almost big enough to be hunted

In a recent article by Peter Lindsey and others in the South African Journal of Wildlife Research, there is a good review of the current state of canned lion hunting and possible relationships between that sordid industry and hunting of wild lions. 

The authors mention that trophy hunting of wild lions is increasingly contentious with more and more evidence becoming available on the negative impact on wild lion populations. They are also concerned about the ethical aspects of canned lion hunting and the damaging consequences for South Africa as a country supposedly showing leadership in wildlife conservation. 

The article assimilates various lines of evidence, and ultimately concludes that if captive-bred lions ceased to be offered as trophies in South Africa, there could be a positive conservation effect for hunting of wild lions. This would only accrue IF nations offering wild lion hunting would decrease quotas, enforce age minimums for lions shot, significantly engage communities in revenue sharing from wild lion hunts, and significantly raise government fees for wild lion hunts.  

LionAid opposes any form of lion trophy hunting, but we report the contents of the article as a means of evaluating different points of view.

Three of the authors are directly involved with the Panthera Foundation in the USA, an organization long promoting lion trophy hunting as a conservation measure for the species. The study was also funded by Panthera. The study is, however, a realistic and forthright assessment of canned hunting versus the alternatives, and praise is given where praise is due despite Panthera’s continued support for trophy hunting of a species in freefall decline.

The article makes the following points:

A) Wild lion trophy hunting information:

  • Excessive trophy harvests have emerged in some areas. Lion populations are particularly sensitive to trophy harvests due to the social disruption and potential for infanticide by incoming males. Elevated demand for lion trophies could confer negative conservation consequences where lion hunting is poorly regulated and/or where quotas are excessive. Lion offtakes have already been shown to be excessive in Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • Not one African country where lion trophy hunting occurs rigorously enforces lion trophy age restrictions and suggested lion offtakes of 0.5 lions per year per 1000 km2.
  • In some scenarios like the open and game-controlled areas of Tanzania and Game Management Areas of Zambia, communities are largely excluded from the benefits of hunting.

B) Captive-raised lion hunting information:

  • The captive-bred lion hunting industry has developed at a time when there is increasing scrutiny regarding the acceptability and effectiveness of trophy hunting as a conservation tool. 
  • Ethical concerns and negative publicity associated with captive-bred lion hunting could potentially offset financial gains by disrupting much larger and more economically significant industries such as ecotourism and mainsteam trophy hunting. 
  • Captive bred lion hunting is popular because it guarantees a kill (99.2%), takes a shorter amount of time (3.3 days versus 14-21 days) is cheaper than wild lion hunting (US$20,000-40,000 versus $37,000-76,000), happens in South Africa where there are good international airline connections, avoids costly government fees, yields larger trophies, and caters for less physically fit clients. Asian and Russian clients are disproportionately represented among captive bred lion hunters.
  • 33.5% of lions shot in South Africa are females.
  • 81% of South African operators claimed that their clients knew exactly what a captive-bred lion hunt entails. 33% of operators from foreign countries disagreed. 64% of the clients thought that such hunting only meant that it occurred in fenced areas, 49% thought it involved captive animals, 29% believed it involved hunting of animals raised specifically to be shot, and 8% felt it involved shooting drugged lions. 
  • There is limited overlap between hunters of wild lions versus those buying captive-bred lion hunts. 96% of clients who hunted a wild lion would prefer a second wild lion hunt, while only 20% of those who hunted a captive-bred lion would prefer a wild lion hunt in the future. 
  • It is estimated that only 8 “wild” lions are hunted per year in South Africa. Such “wild” lions are hunted in concessions next to Kruger Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.  A “wild” lion can also be defined in South Africa as a captive-bred lion that has been fending for itself for two years according to the report and as little as 2 weeks in some South African provinces according to our information. This means that only about 1% of lions hunted in South Africa are possibly wild. Wild lions can easily be lured out of protected areas for hunters with the use of calls and baits as most perimeter fences are ineffective at containing predators.
  • 53% of hunting operators interviewed felt that if captive-bred lion hunting was to be closed down in South Africa it would move to another country, identifying Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique. 
  • 47% of the operators believed that captive-bred lion hunting already occurs outside South Africa notably in Zimbabwe and Namibia. 
  • If captive-bred lion hunting closed down in South Africa, the possible resulting demand for wild lions in other countries could include both positive and negative consequences for wild lion hunting. Negative consequences would accrue to lions in those countries where lion hunting is poorly regulated and/or quotas are excessive. Positive consequences would accrue by increased revenue to those countries that set realistic quotas, have enforceable laws on harvesting underage lions, and are engaged in revenue sharing with communities living with lions. Currently, not one country allowing lion hunting in Africa satisfies all those requirements. 
  • Some trophy hunting organizations have distanced themselves from captive bred hunting. Rowland Ward will not admit canned lions into their record books. The Safari Club International has different categories for lions hunted behind fences and wild lions. The Boone and Crockett Club issued a public condemnation of the practice. 
  • The trade in lion bones from South Africa to Asia was seen as a strongly negative consequence of lion breeding that could have significant implications for poaching of large wild cats. 

LionAid appreciates the information, and the authors’ acknowledgement that all is not well with wild lion trophy hunting, let alone canned lion hunting. Perhaps the Panthera Foundation would now like to join the great majority of conservation bodies speaking out against this practice. Perhaps the hunting organizations could also take a stance by refusing to offer any hunting operator engaged in captive-bred lion hunting a place at their annual conventions. This would mean excluding all South African lion hunting operators, perhaps something too dreadful for the Dallas Safari Club, the Houston Safari Club, the Safari Club International, and very many others to consider. These organizations should also engage in due diligence to suggest their members avoid canned lion hunting operators possibly offering hunts in Zimbabwe and Namibia. 

The article mentions that captive-raised lion hunting is lacking in ethics and is against the moral stance of “fair chase” by societies and organizations that promote trophy hunting. If those organizations would actually condemn the practice, canned lion hunting would die on the vine. The fact that they do not completely negates their increasingly dubious claims that lion trophy hunting promotes conservation of the species. 

If trophy hunting organizations want to claim any involvement in lion conservation, they must first address the rot that currently describes all forms of lion trophy hunting. Until then, they should not expect a place at a table where serious conservation needs are discussed, as they remain part of the problem rather than the solution. 

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:01

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