Conservation: "Crying for lions"

August 2, 2016


If you have ever felt the deep rasp of a lions belly rumble, surrounded by little more than darkness, you will understand what it is to be in awe of the night’s sounds. It will live forever in your soul. Spend enough time in the wilds of Africa, and you will have this privilege, but for how much longer will this be.

Far worse than being surrounded by people who make judgement on subjects they know little about, today we are surrounded by people who make judgement on poor, bias information, spoon fed from trash talking high profile personalities and a media hell bent on miss-information. It is disturbingly frequent I see comments on main-stream news and social media based on an ill-informed snippets and snap judgement, where personal emotion clouds evidential logic. We face this on a daily basis, and never more true than with subjects relating to hunting.

Brewing under the surface, long before anyone had heard of the ‘famous’ Cecil, the future of lion hunting in Africa was facing an escalating push globally towards restriction and ban. The hunting industry in South Africa had done did little to help itself, with the scandal of canned hunting over the last decade leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. Even today this has tarnished big game hunting in Africa. Canned hunting from an ethical stand point has no place in this world, and any individual who has a desire to hunt any animal in a small enclosed area, potentially half tranquilised, needs to ask some serious questions about themselves. Looking into the future, the proliferation of colour variants within the hunting industry, primarily in South Africa, not only raises serious questions over the people with a desire to hunt them, but also the ethics of breeding unusual colour variations of antelope. We will tackle the rather distasteful, and artificially lucrative aspect of the industry in a future article.

Note: At the time this article was originally written, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries  in South Africa had added twelve wild animals to the list tame and domestic animals under tha Animal Improvement Act (1998). The species include Black Wildebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Blue Duiker, Bontebok, Gemsbok, Impala, Oribi, Red Hartebeest, Roan, Sable, Springbok, and Tsessebe whereas the only wild animal that was previously listed under the Animal Improvement Act, was the Ostrich. The consequences to this are serious and potential catastrophic for Africa’s wild game, and we will tackle this next month.

"why it seems that some life is more

important than others"

The breeding of lions for hunting may still be under question, but has been criticised by PHASA, who came out strongly against all canned hunting; a stance taken by the vast majority of ethical hunters. Beyond a public distaste for hunting generally, the mere idea of an individual wishing to hunt a kill any of the large cats, or indeed an elephant or rhino, fills many with horror, disgust and sheer hatred. Why would someone want to take such a magnificent life. Indeed they are magnificent, majestic and wonderfully proud.

Before we get into lions specifically, we must ask ourselves the question as to why it seems that some life is more important than others. Why is no one up in arms about the hunting of impala? All those vehement anti-hunters would likely be quite happy to visit the fish monger for Friday night supper. At the most basic level what is the difference. A life is a life. The emotion however is different, and I can appreciate that. We drive passed sheep and cows all the time, and it’s rare I pause and remark what a magnificent beast one is. On the other hand, I stand in inspired awe every time I have the privilege of being in the presence of an elephant. For most people the closest they will get is a picture, or maybe a close encounter from the safety of a vehicle while on safari, and yet the same people pass judgement like experts when it comes to discussions regarding the species. That isn’t really even an experience. It’s a taste of what a real encounter would be like. Stand as a hunter peering through a tangle of jesse, squinting for the passing wash of grey and you understand life in a new way. Who understands the game environment in Africa better than those who have lived, breathed and protected it for decades. Suits sitting in offices half a world away, or the boots on the ground. Those people are hunters. As humans we form emotional attachments to certain animals more readily, and this clouds our judgement when it comes to objectively viewing hunting. Let’s boil this down.


The primary argument when it comes to big game, and in particular lions, is that hunting should be banned because they are an ‘endangered’ species and hunting is contributing to their demise. For a start the notion of endangered is often miss-used, as too is its application for a species as a whole. Of course this is always tainted with the fact anti-hunters view those people who wish to hunt such animals as disgusting human beings. Meanwhile they happily consume their petroleum based products, while watching tv in their new build house encroaching ever further into a rural areas. Human encroachment and conflict is the biggest threat to wildlife in the long term globally, but it’s convenient not to focus on that.



When animals loose their value to society, especially in a society so poor,

they simply will cease to exist. When hunting goes, so does the reason

to tolerate the game. They will be exploited to the last.


Africa’s human population is soaring with current estimates in the region of 1.3billion people on the continent. You only have to go back to the 1980’s and there were less than half of that. With no indication of this growth slowing, the simple truth is that Africans are breeding themselves into starvation, and with that the demise of their habitat and wildlife.

Equally staggering are the rapid decline in the numbers of lions, which, call me mad, correlate very closely the human population explosion. Best estimate give a lion population around the one million mark a century ago, with that dropping to 100,000 by the late 1980’s. Today the exact number is unclear but most consider 20-30,000 to be reasonable. It doesn’t take a genius to see how quickly we could lose the lion. 

Yes of course poaching is having catastrophic impacts on a variety of species, but don’t think that the population increases haven’t impacted population to at least an equal extent. Lions require vast areas of territory, with an abundant source of wild game to survive and thrive. A male Lion may hold up to 100 square miles of territory for one pride. The places in Africa where lions can live without coming into conflict with humans are becoming increasingly limited. The drive for agriculture continues to feed hungry human mouths, and this is simply not compatible or economic with competition from the herbivores lions need as prey. Indeed lions are not compatable with cattle, especially in the absence of wild game. The only wild places lions have left are the large national parks, and those remote hunting concessions far from the beaten track any photo tourists would be willing to travel. 


It is often pointed out that eco-tourism should replace trophy hunting. A naive statement that doesn’t reflect reality on a number of levels. The footprint from photo tourism is far greater, with far more impact on the habitat. It requires roughly 10 times as many visitors to bring in the same income. Possibly more importantly than that, successful photo tourism doesn’t require vast numbers of game. If a happy snapping tourists sees a handful of elephant, and a dozen antelope, they are happy. Where is the incentive for large, healthy populations and the associated cost. The only sustainable way this burden can be carried in the modern world is through trophy hunting.


I find it a little pathetic that people buy into the rubbish spouted by the numerous animal rights organisations, but on the flip side, we as hunters and our hunting organisations globally have been incredibly poor at telling the world in a concise, articulate and scientifically proven way that hunting, and trophy hunting as a management practice, benefits not only the species, but the people as well. We are however getting better at telling this message, as indeed I covered in my article on the IUCN report on Trophy Hunting. We also have some fantastic ambassadors doing their level best to tell the truth about conservation and hunting. Look no further than Ivan Carter. 

At the end of this article you will see what hunters have done for lions, but for now let’s see how the animals rights charities stack up.

In 2013 four of the biggest animal rights charities, including the well-known Born Free Foundation and the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), released a joint report claiming that hunting doesn’t support resources in rural Africa (The $200millon question Feb 2013). In response the SCI decided to put some of its resources towards digging a little into them. According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, the IFAW ranked a Grade –C in reference to how well they allocated money raised towards projects and programs. That equated to a banding of only 63-75% of all funds actually being spent where its donations are intended. That looks pretty good against HSUS which could be as low as 50%. 

"In 2011 they managed a rather

pathetic $39,000 on grants to sub-Saharan Africa"


However if we drill down a little further into how much these organisations spend on the conservation of lions; a species they clearly feel strongly about judging by their public outcry against hunting, you may find the statistics strangely lacking.

Combine the four affore mentioned organisations, and according to the most recent available tax returns they raised in the region of $151 million. That is a whole lot of cash. Of that 1% made it to Africa. HSUS doesn’t run a single lion sanctuary in Africa despite raising $130million a year. In 2011 they managed a rather pathetic $39,000 on grants to sub-Saharan Africa. Contrast that to the money generated by hunters across Africa, which sees $200 million a year coming into rural communities and concessions at the very front line of saving the species that inhabit the land. (This number is criticised by the report mentioned above and is something I will be looking at in more detail in coming months to uncover the truth. It doesn’t however change the fact that the organisation contributions are minimal)

In the newspapers this month we see it written that “Lions are still in the firing line of hunters because – trophies, heads, skins and even paws – can be shipped over seas, particularly to parts of Europe, by wealthy participants on shooting safaris”. Clearly emotive but sadly miss-informed, they go on to reinforce their poor journalistic bias by tying this to the rapid decline in lion populations. Of course it fails to recognise the numerous examples where lion populations have soared directly as a result of trophy hunting based game management, or indeed the simple truth that the recent rapid decline, much the same as elephants and rhino is a result of poaching, human conflicts and an ever increasing decline in wild habitat at the hands of urbanisation.

A consortium of organisations including Four Paws, Lion Aid and IFAW and Born Free have called for the British Government, in the form of Andrea Leadsome as the new Environment minister, to support the call for CITES to upgrade lions and elephants to Appendix 1. They of course have kept it quiet as to the minimal effort they have made to save lions themselves, and brushed right passed the fact that trophy hunting is responsible for the highest densities of wild lions still in existence. The article blames international trade in trophies, hides, bones and by-products. And here, as always lies the shameful lie, miss-truth and blurring of the real world.

There is indeed a legal trade in trophies, as per the restrictions placed by CITES, and individual countries regulation with regard to population census and permitting. However, to suggest that wild populations have declined due to legal trade in lion body parts is disturbingly miss-leading. This lies solely with the illegal poaching of wild lions and human conflicts. Discussion I have had in Africa with friends and PH’s over the last decade has suggested that the problem of lion poaching has been far more widespread and extensive than many people realised. Whereas it is very obvious when a rhino is poached – the only real value lies in the horn – when a lion is poached illegally for Asian medicinal purposes, almost everything is taken. There is no body left as evidence of the carnage.


If at the 17th Conference of the Parties meeting in September 2016 they come to a consensus that elephants and lions are to be moved to Appendix 1, it could spell the end for the species, contrary to the obvious intentions. In Appendix 1 it would be all but impossible to export trophies, and this in turn will severely damage the trophy hunting industry for this species, curtailing a substantial portion of funds spent by hunters on a yearly basis. The very money used to run, protect, manage and maintain the concessions. (Note with the conference now passed neither the African lion or elephant from Namibia, SA, Zimbabwe or Botswana have been moved to the more stringent Appendix 1)

It doesn’t however mean that the species cannot be hunted, but the international trade in the trophy parts will undoubtedly reduce the number of hunters who want to make the journey and expense. Whatever your judgement or reasons for an individual wanting to hunt an elephant or lion, it doesn’t change the cold hard fact that these people – trophy hunters – are doing more to save the species than any anti-hunting focused animal rights organisation. 

The argument that lions shouldn’t be hunted because they are under threat and declining fails on so many levels. Not least because ‘trophy’ class wild lions are those at the end of their life cycle, often having been removed from the pride by a younger suiter. His days, fending for himself are very limited, and so the contribution to the species is negligible, and indeed far more beneficial as a hunted quarry. Money, income, jobs and ultimately the protection of and preservation of the habitat as a result. To hunt sustainably you have to take the long view. The examples of hunting in the long term proliferation of game are aplenty. Kenya closed hunting in the 1970’s and lost around 70% of all its game. That’s what the removal of hunting did for the wildlife in their country. A resounding failure. In contrast South Africa began promoting its hunting industry around the same time. The head of game has increased from around 550,000 to in excess of 18million.

Bubye Conservancy in Zimbabwe is a ideal case study for lions in particular: Previously used only for agriculture, this is now a private hunting concession using limited trophy hunting to fund conservation and wildlife management. The result of this is clear. In 1999 there were only 13 lions on the concession. In 2012 there were more than 500 lions in the same conservancy. Incidentally, from 2009, these numbers were collected by the WildCRU team from Oxford University. The elephant populations shows similar trends, increasing from less than 50 to in excess of 700 individuals. Make no mistake, this area is managed for wildlife and hunting. The principle of management is not only supported by the IUCN and WWF, but this example is also heralded as evidence in the recent IUCN report on trophy hunting.

Namibia is also a fantastic example of how hunting has helped the prosperity of its people and the wealth of game. Their population’s saw a 200% increase since the 1970s, and is one of the very few places on the planet where elephant populations are increasing. This summary from Jason G. Goldman in the University of Washington’s Conservation Magazine sums it up pretty well:

“The bottom line is clear. Current economic and social circumstances seem to necessitate at least some trophy hunting if local communities are to tolerate the presence of wildlife. If Westerners wish to ban trophy hunting, then it seems they need to put their money where their mouth is, and pay a lot more for their photo safaris than they do now.”

Our issue lies in the dissemination of information to the public in a way that informs the positives. Further to that, who should be making the calls for the protection of a species globally? Should restrictions and regulations be on a species basis, or treated more specifically by population, and should it be intrust this to an international consortium of individuals far removed from the daily fights, successes and failures on the ground in the form of CITES. We will look far more into CITES in coming issues, but it is certainly fair to say that that have simply failed to prevent the biggest threats to African wildlife, and this lies with illegal meat poaching, ivory poaching, rhino horn poaching and in more recent years, the widespread poaching of lions. Eminent hunter and conservationist Ron Thompson is urging African nations to “think very carefully about its continued membership to CITIES”. In his opinion it has “only achieved to give animal rightists a weapon…(against countries) who want to utilise their wildlife resources on a sustainable basis.

He goes on to argue the case that management can only be on a population level and not an entire species with a broad sweeping legislation. Of course the great problem with this is the simple fact that the vast majority of African countries are massively corrupt, and have failed themselves to achieve the same success in government projects to protect game as has been achieved by privately run concessions. We live in difficult, deceptive times and I fear for the future of lions, and wild game the world over.




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