A new study published in the journal PLoS ONE makes the claim that allowing limited lion trophy hunting in Africa, rather than bans called for by numerous animal conservation and welfare groups, might better benefit the species. With the African lion continuing to roam closer and closer to extinction, the questionable conclusions drawn by the authors of the paper seem contrary to common-sense and the opposite of a precautionary approach to conservation.
As the study confirms, African lions are declining at a shocking rate, and the most recent science shows that in countries where trophy hunting is permitted, lion populations that are hunted with the greatest intensity have suffered the steepest declines. If intensive trophy hunting of lions has been going on for decades and the species has done nothing but decline, why would scientists call for the practice to continue -- albeit along with a plea for reform of the lion trophy hunting industry?
The call to reform poorly managed and unsustainable trophy hunting of African lions is nothing new. Again and again experts have advocated for lower quotas, increased monitoring, and better management, but the sport-hunting continues --along with other growing threats-- and so too does the disappearance of lions from their range. Instead of allowing this needless exploitation to go on, stakeholders worried about the fate of the lions should consider the conservation science-backed Precautionary Principle calling for the removal of any identified and unnecessary threats until the species has had a chance to recover.
The study also lauds the economic benefits of allowing trophy hunting, but it makes no mention of where the money goes other than to say that many of the operations are foreign owned. So it seems like a stretch to then assert that local communities benefit directly from trophy hunting. Regardless of where the money ultimately ends up though, instead of thinking about the short-term economic benefits -- which will disappear when the lion does -- perhaps these communities would be better served by weighing the long-term benefits that sustainable ecotourism can bring. In fact, a recent Synovate poll found that 70.4 percent of Americans would pay to go on an African safari to view lions, whereas only 6.6 percent of Americans would pay to hunt lions.
The lion needs help and the status quo is only worsening the situation. Calling for reform has not worked in the past, nor has a focus on short-term economic gains realized from intensive exploitation. Let's give lions a break and let them recover from all the threats they are currently facing -- habitat loss, retaliatory killings, loss of prey, and unsustainable trophy hunting. After they have recovered, then we can worry about whether or not it is appropriate to start killing them again for sport.