According to media reports, an American hunter paid about $50 000 for what he believed was a legal hunt of a male lion near Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, in early July 2015.
The visitor and his guide – a so-called “professional hunter” – lured a lion out of the national park at night by dragging an animal carcass from the back of a vehicle. The visitor attempted to kill the lion with a bow and arrow, but only wounded it. Instead, for 2 days the lion evaded the pursuing hunters, until eventually it was shot with a rifle.
The lion – known as “Cecil” – was well-known among visitors and a favourite photographic subject. It also had a GPS collar, because it was being studied by lion researchers associated with Oxford University.
The following questions come to mind:
1. How did the hunting of Cecil actually benefit conservation, as trophy hunters sometimes claim?
2. How does the tourism industry market Africa to the world as a wildlife paradise, when it’s also a place where we allow the killing of the very thing that we’re trying to promote?
3. Why is hunting allowed anywhere near one of Africa’s finest national parks?
4. Is photographic wildlife tourism compatible with hunting? How do the wildlife guides in Hwange explain to their visitors that hunters have just killed the biggest lion in the area?
5. Can you protect an endangered species by killing it? (Lions are endangered in my opinion, even if the IUCN still lists them as “vulnerable”. There are only about 25 000 wild lions left in Africa, and their numbers have dropped by almost 50% in the last two decades.)
6. At what stage do you ban hunting on an endangered species? When there are 1 000 animals left in the wild? Or 500? Or 50? Or to be somewhat absurd, let’s imagine there are only 10 specimens of the endangered species left in the wild, and a hunter offers to pay several million dollars to hunt one of them. At what stage do we say: “No, this is not for sale, no matter how much money is involved”? And who decides this? After all, the wild animals of Africa belong to everyone, including future generations – not to governments, hunters or tourists.
7. Even if trophy hunters are possibly playing a role in conservation, by ensuring that natural habitat is protected from agriculture or livestock, can trophy hunters and governments be trusted to ensure that trophy hunting is “ethical” and “controlled”, when clearly the industry is plagued with dodgy characters like those who killed Cecil?
According to respected research organisations like Panthera, wild lion populations are in serious crisis in Africa (and elephant, rhino and leopard numbers have also dropped dramatically).
Trophy hunters – as opposed to hunters who shoot antelope to control their populations within a fenced, confined reserve – are systematically (and within the law, mostly) killing off the biggest wildlife specimens in Africa, yet the continent is also facing an unprecedented poaching crisis.
While millions of dollars and immense efforts are channeled into tracking down and arresting poachers who kill rhinos, elephants and lions, hunters are legally allowed to kill the same wild animals which make Africa so attractive as a tourism destination in the first place!
It doesn’t seem to make any sense to me – and I’ve been following this subject for a few years and have interviewed several on-the-ground experts (none of whom seem to agree!). Imagine how confusing it must be for a prospective tourist to Africa who has no knowledge of the subject?
Scott Ramsay of Love Wild Africa is a photojournalist documenting protected areas, national parks and nature reserves in Africa. Partners include Cape Union Mart, K-Way and Ford Ranger. Supported by Safari Centre Cape Town, Goodyear, Outdoor Photo and Hetzner.