Cecil the Lion- Gone but not forgotten

On July 1st 2015, Cecil the Lion, the world’s most famous lion was hit by an arrow belonging to Walter Palmer, an American dentist and recreational big game hunter. Cecil was alive for another painful 40 hours, during which time he was tracked and subsequently killed with a rifle. The killing sparked an international outcry and put under scrutiny the of the ‘sport’ of trophy hunting.

Trophy hunting is ‘sanctioned genocide’ which is not only contributing to the loss of iconic animals, but generating inconsequential revenues in countries where it is legal, wildlife conservationists have warned.

A report called “The Lion’s Share? On the economic benefits of trophy hunting” published earlier this year by Humane Society International, a global animal protection organization, found that trophy hunting brings in less than $132m and supports between just 7,500 and 15,500 jobs in the countries where it is legal. These include Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe and Botswana, even though it has been made illegal since statistics were recorded.

“When people say trophy hunting is helpful to wildlife conservation, they’re hiding the full picture,” Masha Kalinina, an international trade policy specialist at Humane Society International said.

“The animals are worth more alive than dead and hunting clubs, for their own purposes have grossly overstated the contribution of big game hunting,” she added.  

The hunting lobbying group Safari Club International (SCI), which organises a hunting auction as part of its annual convention in Las Vegas, insists that trophy hunts contribute to conservation efforts and generate income for local communities.

A report published by Safari Club International and US-based market research firm Southwick titled the “Conservation Equation in Africa”, stated that hunters directly spend $326m annually, and the industry supports over 53,400 jobs in eight African economies annually.

“Trophy hunting contributed just 0.78 percent of the $17bn in overall tourism spend in 2015 in said combined countries,” Kalinina responded. Photographic safaris, where visitors stay in lodges and get taken on photo safaris, employ a far greater number of locals than trophy hunting lodges, she stated. “First, they operate year-round, versus just six months of the year (the usual length of a hunting season). Second, a photographic safari lodge may host upwards of 2,600 people a year compared with 30 trophy hunters a year on a hunting lodge. All of these photographic tourists need cooks, cleaning staff, guides, etc. thus creating far more income for a much larger number of people,” she added.  

SCI’s annual convention at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

In a clip shot undercover by members of Humane Society International at last year’s annual convention of pro hunting lobby group, Safari Club International at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, a hunter is filmed saying;  “We’re very picky, we don’t shoot the first elephant we see. We’re going with a certain size.” Salespeople even joked that ‘you don’t have to be an expert to hunt.’

Generating $14 million annually, this year’s convention auctioned over 280 hunts including Canadian polar bear, Namibian elephants, African leopards and members of the big five, much to the chagrin of animal rights activists and wildlife conservationists around the world.

Kilombero North Safaris in Masailand in Tanzania, which offers hunting and photographic safaris donated a 14 day leopard, buffalo and plains game to the Safari Club International auction in Las Vegas. “The hunt is worth $42,000 dollars,” Harry Charalambous, the general manager of Kilombero North Safaris said. “We donate the hunts to SCI and get publicity in return. They keep the takings from the auction and use them for lobbying and various conservation efforts,” he added. Hunting, he said was very important to local communities and animal conservation in the area, despite the hunting season only lasting six months of the year.

“If hunting were to disappear from here, who would look after everything? If you take away hunting, you take away the value of the animals.”  

Trophy Hunting and the great conservation lie

“There are only around  20,000 lions left in the wild, and trophy hunters are making it less each day,”  award-winning filmmaker Dereck Joubert, who established the Big Cats Initiative, which supports  conservation projects on the ground and raises awareness across the globe stated.

“If a hunter kills a male lion, the next lion in line in the hierarchy will kill the existing cubs in order to insert their own bloodlines into the females. So for each lion hunted, up to 20 or 30 other lions die,” he added. In Cecil the Lion’s case, his brother Jericho, was most likely have killed all of Cecil’s 12 cubs. “And they don’t put that on your hunting permits,” he added.

“If you really must help, then why not just  write a cheque for the $50,000 or $350,000 or whatever you want to spend and it will be used to save the animals, not kill them,” Mr Joubert suggested.

Hunters also try to ‘outrank’ each other by killing the animal with the most beautiful mane, the biggest antlers, or the strongest male, thereby disrupting the clan. “It’s not in line with the ego of a trophy hunter to kill a frail, dying animal,” he added.

Dr Pieter Kat, an internationally acknowledged expert on lions and director of Lionaid, a London based organisation, which was founded in 2004 with the intention to raise funds to support lion research activities in Africa, said that by allowing trophy hunting to occur, African countries especially are killing their ‘biggest assets.’

“Photographic tourism’ raises so much more than trophy hunting. “During their lifetimes, Cecil the Lion, who was killed in Hwange National Park in Zambia in 2015 for $45,000, and his brother Jericho generated around $2 million in revenues, while the eco tourist photographic huts in the parks generated over $9,000 per day,” he said.

And yet, people of influence like Prince William, who is president of United for Wildlife and patron of the Tusk Trust, said he and “eminent conservationists” agreed that there is a place for commercial hunting in Africa and around the world. “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the arguments for regulated, properly controlled commercial hunting is that the money that goes from shooting a very old infirm animal goes back into the protection of the other species,” he told ITV news in 2016.

“Prince William was badly advised,” Christine MacSween, director and founder of Lionaid said. “He’s talking to the wrong people. He is a mouthpiece and he is given a script, but that’s not the reality. With an estimated 1,500 wild male lions in existence and 300 being hunted per annum, there is absolutely no place for trophy hunting.”

Donald Trump and hunting- what next?

The Republican party may have an elephant as their logo, but that doesn’t mean the party’s president Donald Trump thinks too much of conserving the mammal.

Its no secret that Trump’s sons Donald Jn and Eric are avid hunters and have been photographed with dead leopards and elephants in the African wilds. Trump Snr defended his sons’ actions stating “My sons love to hunt…They’re great marksman, great shots and love it.”

Around 70 per cent of trophy hunters come from the US and it’s big business, especially amongst the wealthy white elite. Hunting clubs are popular across the US, and actively lobbies the U.S. government to take a pro-hunting stance and influence U.S. government policies toward several African nations.

On its website, SCI states that ‘through direct involvement and partnerships with like-minded organizations, it has become a political force in Washington, D.C. and other world capitals.’ 

“No doubt Donald Trump has many friends in SCI and other hunting clubs, which are closely linked to the National Rifle Association. He is quite busy right now, and hunting might not be on the top of his agenda, but taking into account his family connection and disregard for the world around him, we live in fear that he could lift sanctions on lion trophy imports or make it easier to import animals,” Ms Kalinina said. Safari Club International were contacted, but did not reply.

Some good news- Botswana

According to Dereck Joubert, however all is not lost. In 2014, trophy hunting was banned in Botswana. “The income from wildlife has never been better. Conservationists were warned that they would lose all this income if trophy hunting was banned, but now the country has welcomed people who make an ethical decision,” he said.

“Tourism is much more transparent than trophy hunting. Money doesn’t end up in the wrong hands. Taxes are being paid, local people are being hired, and you get 100 per cent more value for wildlife,” Beverly Joubert, a wildlife photographer who is also involved in the Big Cats Initiative with her husband Dereck, added.

The Jouberts were instrumental in helping Botswana become trophy hunting free. In 2006, they took over the 360,000 Selinda reserve, which had been heavily hunted and poached. “We took over the hunting concession in Botswana ten years ago and turned it into an ecotourism destination. “Now it is teeming with wildlife.  The area was previously used for hunting for 5 months of the year for just 12 hunters, and now we are employing 120 people year round, who get a 13th month salary,” Mrs Joubert added.

In 2010, the Safari Club International forced Namibia to reverse its ban on leopard and cheetah hunting. A similar scenario occurred in Zambia when the lobby group persuaded the Zambian government to reverse its ban on hunting lions and leopard, but the chances of that happening in Botswana now are slim. “I speak regularly to Tshekedi Khama, Minister of Environment and Botswana is doing so much better via photographic tourism that any move to go back to hunting would be at the expense of huge income and employment,” Mr Kat said.

The Future of Trophy Hunting

According to scientists, we are on the precipice of the sixth mass extinction, which could see us wiping out at least 75 per cent of the earth’s species.

“We don’t have the luxury of time when it comes to wildlife, we must all act now,” Dereck Joubert reacted. “It’s important for as many people as possible to get people engaged.”

At the 17th CITES, Conference of the Parties, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), in South Africa in September 2016, a coalition of ten African countries submitted a proposal to transfer all African lions from Appendix II to Appendix I. If it had been successful, lions would have received the strictest global protections possible from international commercial trade. But the European Union and other nations voted against lions and elephants to be classified as Appendix 1, so now  they are still on the kill list of hunters across the world. “Had they abstained,” Beverly Joubert said, “The motion would have gone through. “It’s a shame, but we have to keep fighting for the next time,” she added.

“The fact that there are so many trophy hunting advocates, who include the Oxford University researchers who had tagged Cecil the Lion before he died, make our job harder,” Christine MacSween added. “For some reason the sycophants in Oxford think trophy hunting is OK, which is frustrating and gives the pro hunting argument kudos.” she added.

“What is now needed is an independent count of lions occurring in those hunting concessions with such a long history of offtake. With those results we can properly evaluate if lion hunting is indeed sustainable and of conservation benefit. Concession owners have historically and will in future be reluctant to allow any such counts to occur,” Dr Kat from Lionaid suggested.

There is also the pressing issue of canned hunting, which is the breeding of thousands of lions on farms for the purpose of trophy hunting. It has taken a hit in the past year since the US banned lion trophies from entering the country.  Now there are thousands of animals, who can’t be released into the wild, but are still in demand in the Far East for their bones, which used to be sent to Vietnam and Laos to turn into ‘medicine.’

“The first thing that has to happen is that there should be no further breeding of lions on game farms. Once that is ceased, the remaining lions in cages will perhaps have to be euthanised or allowed to be traded until they are gone,” Mr Kat suggested.

On a positive note, people are becoming more incensed by trophy hunting and activism has increased across the globe. “Most people are disgusted by trophy hunting,” Wendy Keefover, who works to protect wildlife on behalf of the Humane Society International in Denver, Colorado stated.

“People know who Walter Palmer is. He became a household name after killing Cecil the Lion and he was ran out of his practice in Minnesota. Ordinary people who have no personal connection to wildlife across are rising up,” she said. There is a movement, not just against African trophy hunting, but all around the world. “The trophy hunter demographic is rich, American, ego driven, white male with too much money  and we know that now, so we can protest when they host events and get informed about what they are doing and where,” she added.

Ms Keefover said it is important to check out anti- hunting sites and get onto your local governments to find out if they are representing your anti trophy hunting stance. “Trophy hunters have no business killing animals. Let nature take its own course. That’s what nature does.”


Trophy hunting- the stats

  • According to the Humane Society International between 2005 and 2014 more than 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported to the U.S, with an average of more than 126,000 trophies every year.  
  • That includes: nearly 32,500 trophies of the African Big Five species: approximately 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards, 330 southern white rhinos and 17,200 African buffalo.
  • Trophy hunting contributed just 0.78 per cent ($132 million) of the $17 billion in overall tourism spend in 2015 to the combined countries of Botswana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  • There are currently just 20,000 lions left in Africa
  • In the last 50 years Africa has lost 90-95 per cent of its large predators.
  • 70 per cent of trophy hunters come from the US.