The recent killing of Zimbabwe’s Cecil the Lion sparked a world-wide reaction and has focused a great deal of attention on the ethics of trophy hunting. There is no question that trophy hunting is an extremely polarizing issue and there are demands around the world to curtail the practice.
The death of Cecil has also put the spotlight on the alarming decline of African lions, whose population has diminished by 50% over the past 20 years. However, it is not the case that trophy hunting is the primary cause of this decline. As in the case of many other threatened species, the main drivers are habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and disease.
This is where things become complicated. It turns out that in Africa, trophy hunting actually contributes to the protection of land and wildlife because of its large economic impact. Hunting safari operators are custodians of more land in sub-Saharan Africa than the national parks in the region. Bans on trophy hunting in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia were actually associated with accelerated losses of wildlife, not reduced losses.
These issues are clearly economic at their core. Protecting habitats of wildlife is expensive and human populations have their own needs. We may find trophy hunting to be repugnant and believe it should be banned. However, doing so can have many unintended consequences and may not help the cause of conservation at all.
Ultimately, enough land must be set aside in protected areas to ensure the long-term survival of species like the African lions. Making this happen will never be easy and without complications.
Africa has half as many lions as 20 years ago – but don’t blame trophy hunting
Photo, posted April 5, 2010, courtesy of Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.