THE BLOG
11/02/2015 03:35 pm ET Updated Nov 02, 2016

Eco-Tourism Worth More to African Economies Than Trophy Hunting

While most of the world worries about the long-term survival of Africa's threatened lions, a U.S. trophy hunter killed the most famous lion of all in what turned out to be an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe. Then no sooner had protests died down than news reports told of a German trophy hunter who followed up and killed the largest bull elephant in Africa in 30 years -- perhaps the largest ever seen in Zimbabwe -- and never mind that poachers are driving the continent's elephants to the brink of extinction.

What can one do, except feel powerless and fume and wonder what is wrong with some people? And find another dentist besides Walter Palmer in Minneapolis? Palmer, of course, wounded Cecil, leaving him to suffer in death throes for 40 hours before killing him with a rifle shot.

Well, I say, we're not powerless and let's not give up. The world is seeing trophy hunting in its true light: as a senseless pastime for a very few callous people, a tiny fraction of the one-percenters, who travel the world, killing as much and as often as they can.

Not only are these actions senseless, but ecologically reckless. Animals whose survival prospects are in doubt do not need the arrows and bullets of trophy hunters to hasten things along.

Cecil was the star attraction of Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park where he lived with his family -- a pride of female lions and their cubs. With his black mane and awe-inspiring regal countenance, the sight of him thrilled thousands of visitors. His death was "enjoyed" by only one person.

And let's be honest about it, Dr. Palmer, there was no "macho" in killing a lion who spent his days in the sun posing as tourists approached by the thousands. That was about as manly as shooting the neighbor's dog.

Are these animals worth more to local economies alive or dead? One African conservationist estimated that eco-tourists from just one lodge paid more in a week to take pictures of Cecil than the $55,000 that Palmer spent to put the lion's head on his trophy wall. Over his lifetime, a living Cecil could have brought in $1 million in tourism.

The hunter who subsequently shot and killed the giant elephant in Zimbabwe did not identify himself. But the man who organized the hunt seemed to boast that there would be no shaming of people like that anyway.

"We hunters have thick skin and we know what the greenies will say," he told the London Daily Telegraph.

So what can one do?

Well, every vacation dollar spent is a vote. So vote wisely. It does not take many photo safari cancellations to end up costing the country serious revenue.

Wildlife-based eco-tourism is a big industry in Africa and dwarfs trophy hunting in its economic impact. According to a report by the World Tourism Organization, wildlife-based eco-tourism generated an estimated $34.2 billion in tourist spending in 2013. In Zimbabwe, tourism provides 6.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country, dwarfing the meager 0.2 percent that trophy hunters provide.

Tourists should avoid any operation with links to trophy hunting, including "play with lion cubs" adventures that often supply canned hunting operations with living trophies when their habituated cubs get to old to "play." By visiting countries like Kenya and Botswana that have shunned trophy hunting and supporting eco-safaris and wildlife watching ventures, tourists can show that they value Africa's wildlife -- alive.

Many Americans, of course, cannot afford a holiday in Africa. For others, it's a once in a lifetime chance. But there is still plenty to do to bring this whole "big game" trophy hunting mess to a long overdue tipping point.

When you fly, jot a note of thanks if your airline is among the majority -- like American, Delta, Jet Blue, United, and Virgin -- that won't carry hunting "trophies" back home for these hunters. And if you have time, jot a note of protest to those holdout companies that still provide a getaway vehicle for the theft of African wildlife.

And then there's Congress. Even after Cecil's killing brought the matter into the national political arena, there are lawmakers working quietly to help 41 fat-cat trophy shooters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. They didn't eat the meat of these polar bears, but just went on a head-hunting exercise in the Arctic, and paid a fortune to do so--all for the head and the hide and the bragging rights that go along with it.

Tell your members of Congress to shoot down this sweetheart deal for one of the smallest and most elite groups of millionaire trophy hunters -- the innocuous sounding "Sportsmen's Act" in the Senate and "SHARE Act" in the House. It's time to say no to the pay-to-slay subculture of wealthy people who -- like Walter Palmer -- spend a fortune to kill lions, elephants, polar bears, and the other grandest, most majestic animals of the world.