With the recent killing of Cecil the lion at the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe by US dentist Walter James Palmer of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, the question of whether African countries should ban trophy hunting in order to help save the endangered species living there is being called into question. Cecil the lion was known as a “national treasure,” to Zimbabwe, admired across the country for its beauty.
Zimbabwe officials say Cecil died a particularly gruesome death, as he was first shot with a crossbow, before he was killed 40 hours later with a gun. He was later skinned and beheaded.
The death of Cecil the lion has also put his 12 orphaned cubs at risk, as they will have no protection from rivaling adult males looking to dominate the pride. This, along with the recent killing of an endangered black rhino in Namibia by Texan hunter Corey Knowlton has put pressure on African countries to put an end to trophy hunting.
While conservationists are pushing for increased hunting regulation, several factors need to be acknowledged before beefing up regulations that are already in place, such as how African countries benefit financially from trophy hunting, and how ingrained the practice of hunting remains to many of their cultures.
How Trophy Hunting Works
Every year, hunters from around the world travel to Africa to kill thousands of animals, attracted to the rare and exotic creatures that live there exclusively, including the African elephant and black rhino. The goal of trophy hunting is to bag the biggest and most beautiful game to brag about later.
More than 23 African countries offer the chance to trophy hunt by issuing hunting permits for large sums of money, which pays for staff wages, professional hunters, setting up camp, trackers, and other accommodations. Some countries issue hunting fees depending on the species of animal chosen, and can vary depending on factors such as the animal’s origin and sex. Other countries such as those in South Africa lets hunters pay only for what they shoot, which is usually the cheapest option.
Pros of Trophy Hunting — For Africa
There’s no doubt about it—trophy hunting rakes in an enormous amount of capital for a large number of African countries. Charging incredible fees for big-game trophy hunting expeditions, with prices that can be upwards of $50,000 (the price of killing an elephant in South Africa), a large chunk of several of their countries’ economies depend on this source of income.
In Tanzania, the trophy hunting industry generates 12% of the country’s GDP—money that they use to pay for wages, and the maintenance of preserves (land that takes up 40% of the country’s land). Tanzania has figured out a way to do this, while still heavily regulating the trophy hunting industry, with the Wildlife Conservation Act and the National Park Act managing all hunting activity in the country. Many other African countries follow similar hunting policies, generating a combined total of $190 million from trophy hunting alone.
Many justify the practice of trophy hunting by claiming that their hunting of specific targets, chosen for their potential to harm the species as a whole, they are actually helping conservationist efforts. Such was the case with Corey Knowlton, who claims he was motivated to kill the aged black rhino as it proved a threat to younger rhinos. Knowlton recently spoke to CNN: “I hope people will look at it and say this was the turning point that got people to understand what it means to be a conservationist.”
Cons of Trophy Hunting — For Africa
Conservationists such as Jeffrey Flocken, regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare aren’t buying it, pointing to a huge lack of evidence that would support this way of justifying trophy hunting.
Flocken recently released an opinion piece on the issue, within it claiming “Killing endangered wildlife to save it is just wrong.” Other experts, including Professor Craig Packer, a lion expert at the University of Minnesota agree with this statement; “There is little evidence that hunting does much to conserve wildlife in Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique or much of West Africa.” This news comes as a response to a popular study done in which the increase of South Africa’s white rhino population was theoretically linked to regulated hunting. While some conservationists agree that well-managed hunting can be beneficial to a specie’s preservation, there remains no significant proof of this being the case.
Zambia recently overturned its decision to ban the hunting of lions and leopards on its lands—a move, according to the co-founder of anti-hunting group Lion Aid and evolutionary biologist Dr. Pieter Kat that “caved in to powerful hunting interests.” Even in many African countries that do implement heavy hunting regulations, governments are known to do relatively little to enforce them.
The Fate of Cecil’s Cubs
Far from helping preserve the species as a whole, the death of Cecil the lion has also brought about the likely deaths of his twelve cubs. According to the chairman of The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force Jonny Rodrigues, “When two males fight over a pride, the winner kills all the cubs and introduces his own bloodline.” Many Zimbabwe officials believe the cubs to already be dead, as Cecil was killed on July 1st, giving rival male lions quite some time to establish a new hierarchy.
Rodrigues added, “Letting nature take its course may be the most humane thing to do.”
Cecil the lion’s cub’s story reminds of Simba’s and Scar’s relationship in the The Lion King. Appreciate the savannah with SnailVR: