Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hunting of Wild Lions as a Conservation Tool?

I've run into many hunters who argue that hunting is actually a viable conservation tool and, given the right circumstances, it probably could be. But not where the big cats are concerned with the current state of their population in rapid decline. Sport hunters' argument that hunting wild lions is actually beneficial from a conservation standpoint is actually laughable during a time when the wild lion population continues to shrink at an alarming rate. And that certainly isn't laughable.

How can you not agree that the big cats need to be protected from hunters given the current health (or lack thereof) of the species? It was a sport hunter who recently killed Leonardo, the last remaining endangered desert male lion in Namibia. Leonardo was part of a research group of wild lions being studied by Desert Lion Conservation’s Dr. Flip Stander and was wearing a radio collar at the time he was shot. He was backed into a shallow cave where he had no chance of escape.

In light of this senseless tragedy, sport hunters seriously need to reconsider their stance. Until the wild lion population has had a chance to recover and begin to flourish again, sport hunters need to find another "sport."

When you weigh the importance of allowing hunters the luxury to be able to continue enjoying their "sport" against ensuring the survival of an endangered species, it's a no-brainer. And yes, I said endangered because the wild lion is actually endangered and not vulnerable as it's currently classified. The IUCN and CITES (the organizations responsible for classifying species on an international level) have slow and burdensome processes and  simply aren't moving fast enough to reclassify the lion. The Barbary Lion is already extinct due to over hunting and the Asiatic Lion's population (near the Gir Forest in India) is estimated to number only 200.

A Petition was recently filed by several conservation groups in the U.S. calling on the Secretary of the Interior to reclassify the lion as endangered in the U.S. This would mean that imports of lion trophies - the lion's heads that hunters are so fond of hanging on their walls - and the sale of lion meat would be deemed illegal within the U.S. This is important because 50% of the hunters who travel to Africa to kill wild lions come from the U.S. Bringing back that coveted lion's head trophy is a big deal to them and not being able to do so may serve as a deterrent to them. That is, until they find a ranch in Texas or some other hunting-friendly state where canned hunting occurs.

What exactly is canned hunting? Canned hunting is the underbelly of the hunting industry and many hunters may not even be aware they're participating in a canned hunt. Of course, they may know exactly what they're participating in ... and not care. It is, after all, about the adrenaline rush. It’s about the chase, the hunt, the kill … and most of all the stories of bravery told while drinking a cold beer and admiring the dead lion's head hanging on the wall.

Here's how brave those hunters participating in canned hunts really are. The lions are typically raised from cubs on a ranch for the sole purpose of being shot by a "hunter" in an enclosed area once the lion reaches the appropriate age to be deemed legal to kill. The lions are fed their entire lives by the ranch owners and grow up learning to trust humans. I've heard of incidents where the ranch owner arrived with his "clients" and the lion appeared, thinking he was going to be fed by the ranch owner, as was the custom since he was a cub. Sadly, the ending for the lion turns out to be quite different. To make the scenario even more distasteful, the lions are sometimes drugged beforehand so as not to present a danger to the hunter. Once the lion has been killed in the enclosed area with no chance of escape (especially if it's been drugged), the hunter happily leaves with his trophy: the lion's head for that empty spot on his wall.

Two things are certain. First, wild lions are on their way to extinction, with experts estimating their demise to be within about twenty years if not sooner. Second, hunting hasn't slowed down so apparently the sport hunters' theory that they're providing conservation value to increase the wild lion population apparently isn't working.

Tsavo, a lion I met in 2010, who is a wonderful
ambassador for his species (photo: Keon Robertson)

Leonardo shortly after his death

The shallow cave where Leonardo was shot (photo: Desert Lion Conservation)

Animals Matter.


  1. Thank you for putting out an important message.

  2. Thanks, Jim. Sometimes I feel like all the beautiful and wondrous things in this world are being destroyed, consumed, killed. Thank you for caring.

  3. dont hunt animals save them from who hunts animals

  4. I saw Louis Theroux's program on the canned hunts. The whole idea is so completely horrible. These people are sick.