Posted: 31 July 2015. Updated: 14 November 2016
The murder of Cecil the lion brought to the world’s attention the sickening slaughter of our wildlife for “entertainment”. Cecil is reported to have suffered an agonizing death at the hands of a US trophy hunter in Zimbabwe – after being shot and injured with a bow and arrow he was tracked for at least 40 hours, before being killed with a gun. The killing of Cecil, a well-known lion with a tolerance of humans and the subject of a scientific study, has alerted the public to this violent and destructive hobby. Cecil’s cruel death has given a face to the countless beautiful wild animals being killed around the world each year by a small, wealthy minority with a lust for killing. This needs to stop before we lose them forever.
It has been reported that lions are already extinct in 25 African countries and close to extinction in 10 others, with numbers across the continent estimated at 15,000-20,000 compared to around 200,000 in the 1980s. According to the IUCN, who “have greater confidence in the estimate of fewer than 20,000 Lions in Africa than in a number over 30,000”, “there is not a population of lions in West or Central Africa that is large enough to be viable”. It is thought that in 10-20 years, the lion could disappear from the wild unless urgent action is taken.
Lions are vulnerable to extinction due to hunting and habitat loss worldwide; they are also under threat due to persecution by livestock farmers across Africa. The species has already been lost from many regions, and is apparently now only found in little more 8% of their historical range.
Trophy hunters and some large conservation organisations argue that one way to conserve wildlife is to breed them for killing. Not only is this concept of production for killing unethical and destructive, it is not conservation. An argument is that when the animals are protected for breeding to be killed, numbers increase – that is not conservation of a species. Conservation is protecting animals in the wild, in their natural habitat and allowing them to live their natural lives. Breeding animals to kill is production. Another claim is that trophy hunting is a way to make the animals valuable to local communities, however the facts don’t support that claim. We agree that local communities need to see the protection of these animals as a benefit in order to engage their support, but there is no economic argument for trophy hunting. Trophy hunters are a wealthy minority and the money they spend goes to a select few involved in providing for their bloodlust. Economists showed that, across a range of countries they investigated, trophy hunting revenue was less than 2% of tourist revenue. On the other hand, the wider local community benefits directly from nature based tourism such as viewing and photographing of animals – local people can provide accommodation, entertainment, transport, souvenirs and more – it is logical that the economic argument for mass tourism is stronger.
A 2013 economic report concludes “hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas.” And, that the trophy hunting industry “is tiny, contributing at best a fraction of a percent of GDP. Nature based tourism does play a significant role in national development, but trophy hunting is insignificant. Across the investigated countries, trophy hunting revenue was only 1.8% of tourism revenues.”
The World Tourism Organization describes how “Tourism is consumed at the point of production; the tourist has to go to the destination and spend his/her money there, opening an opportunity for local businesses of all sorts, and allowing local communities to benefit through the informal economy, by selling goods and services directly to visitors”.
Captive breeding and lion reintroduction efforts have been branded as a “conservation myth”. A study of lions bred for commercial lion encounter programmes, which promoted captive breeding for reintroduction, was examined. It was concluded that “captive-origin lions have no role in species restoration”.
The case of the murder of Cecil in July 2015 also exposed another myth put forward by hunters – that their killings help maintain the health of local animal populations by taking older or surplus animals (often argued by killers of deer and other wild animal breeding businesses). Clearly, that is not the case. Trophy hunters want to kill the impressive large, strong males that are vital to local populations. It is estimated that Cecil has around 24 cubs and therefore a whole generation of cubs in his pride are at risk of being wiped out by other local males. Cecil’s death has therefore destabilised the local population.
With the loss of Cecil, other males in the area (possibly those who may not otherwise have been able to challenge Cecil) will enter his home range. A new male will kill the cubs fathered by a previous male as this speeds up the females’ reproduction. The new male will “cause the death of virtually all small clubs that were present in the pride at the time of the takeover”. In addition, new males may evict other adult males and sub-adults, destabilising the group.
A 2010 study concluded “Sport hunters are extremely efficient in locating their quarry, lion and leopard trophy hunting specifically targets adult males, and each male replacement has profound effects on the reproduction of multiple females.”
The research is clear – the best way to protect lions is in the wild – and that means stopping the hunters.
The US is the world’s largest importer of lion trophies and African lion parts and therefore plays a huge role in the destruction of the world’s wild lion populations. There is overwhelming support for the US government to take action to protect lions from hunting and in December 2015 the species was given endangered status, which ADI and our supporters had pushed for and will hopefully lead to a ban on lion trophy imports. ADI has urged the USFWS to consider the particularly US contribution of trophy hunting upon wild populations. The evidence shows trophy hunting’s claimed benefits are inflated, bear little connection to actual conservation, and don’t come close to those derived through non-consumptive tourism, which provides local communities lasting economic benefit and incentives conservation.
Efforts to clamp down on trophy hunting are gathering pace, with the introduction of Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act on July 31st 2015 by US Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) which seeks to curb the hunting for “sport” of species listed, or proposed to be listed, as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Rare Cats and Canids Act introduced by Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) in June 2015 also seeks to protect lions and other cat, and canine, species listed as threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered.
Together we can help lions like Cecil. Please take action today.
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Justice for Cecil:
Outrageously, Walter Palmer did not to face charges over the death of Cecil the lion. In November 2016, it was announced that Zimbabwe’s High Court dropped all charges against Theo Bronkhorst, the guide who lured Cecil out of Hwange National Park with the carcass of a dead animal, so that US dentist Walter Palmer could shoot the park’s beloved iconic lion Cecil with an arrow.
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