Emotions run high over trophy hunting, as the outrage that followed last year’s shooting of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe proved. But new research offers an uncomfortable truth for wildlife lovers: hunting lions really does help conserve them – if it’s done properly.
Conservation biologists from the universities of Kent, Queensland and Cambridge, including Bob Smith, have studied the effects of trophy hunting on lion populations in Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve.
The Tanzanian government divides much of the Selous into blocks, for which hunting rights are sold to commercial interests. Smith found that lion populations tend to be stable in blocks in which the rights have been owned by the same company for at least 10 years. In blocks for which rights change hands more frequently, however, sustainability is seen as a lower priority.
“They were basically hunting all of the old males,” he said. “That generates higher income in the short term, but then the number of lions available for trophy hunting goes down.”
Governmental incentives, such as offering long-term leases, might offer ways of improving things. Smith has other ideas, too. On top of the hunting rights, the companies pay the state a fee for each lion taken.
“We’re suggesting that the fee for the land goes up and the fee for shooting individual animals goes down. The total amount [of revenue raised for the government] will be the same, but there’ll be less pressure to shoot more animals.”
Smith accepts that objections to trophy hunting are about more than just sustainability. “I find the idea of trophy hunting odd. I’ve never hunted anything in my life. But at the moment trophy hunting is playing an important role [in conserving the species].”
“We just don’t have enough funding to conserve lions – to protect and manage these areas and tackle poaching,” Smith told BBC Wildlife Magazine. “If everyone who complained about trophy hunting gave us a pound, we could sort it. But they don’t.”
Source: PLoS ONE
Main image: Lions are a popular target among trophy hunters. © Pedro Bige/iStock