The exploitation of wild animals has been identified as one of the dominant drivers of biodiversity loss, emergence of zoonotic infectious disease, animal suffering, and financial instability.
Lion populations have dropped by more than 40% in the past two decades. There are approximately 20000 wild lions in Africa, with only 3000 in South Africa. Lions are most significantly impacted by illegal hunting, body part trade, revenge killings, habitat loss and fragmentation, and, according to Panthera, by unsustainable trophy hunting.
Trophy hunting is the killing of wild animals for recreation with the purpose of collecting trophies such as horns, antlers, skulls, skins, tusks or teeth for display. Trophy hunting, like poaching, artificially selects the biggest and strongest animals (largest tusks and thickest manes), weakening populations’ genetic health and variation. Therefore, while revenue may be forthcoming in the short term from such extraction, the longer-term effects are that population growth dynamics are negatively affected.
According to some conservationists, those that question the trophy hunting of lion pride leaders such as Cecil, Xanda, Seduli, Mopane and Skye, are uninformed. They do not seem believe that the trophy hunting of male lions are a major threat to the conservation of lion. However, other academics argue that the continuing complicity by these conservationists without fully exhausting other options is not appropriate.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service unless reforms are made to the current management of lion trophy hunting, worrying declines in lion populations from excessive hunting in certain regions will continue. The idea that trophy hunters only eliminate ‘surplus’ animals is patently untrue. Repeatedly in southern Africa, the biggest and strongest male lions (in their reproductive prime) are shot. Younger lions entering the pride often execute infanticide on their predecessor’s cubs, thus reducing numbers and further weakening the gene pool.
The incentives that drive trophy hunting (selecting the strongest) are fundamentally at odds with the conservation imperative (preserving the strongest). Beyond the negative ecological effects, the practice remains rooted in colonial modes of extraction.
On the 5th of August 2021 a twelve-year old pride male lion, named Mopane by locals, was baited out of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and shot dead with a bow by a trophy hunter. Mopane leaves behind a pride with two litters of sub adult offspring. Without the protection of Mopane, there is very little chance of survival for these nineteen cubs.
Lions of all ages are being shot and the trophy hunting industry lies and reinvents the justifications each time to suit their need to keep their business model rolling. There can be no better example of this statement than The hunting of Skye in the Greater Kruger National Park.
Tourism concession owners in Hwange National Park have been particularly outspoken about the hunt of Mopane and have described it as unethical, egotistical and greedy.
On the same day as the Mopane hunt Amy Dickman published an article stating that: “Trophy hunting today simply isn’t a major threat to wildlife, even for species like lions and for some species, it has directly improved their conservation.”
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