In all the emotion surrounding #CecilTheLion, it’s difficult to have a rational discussion on the topic. In response to reader requests, here’s a succinct explanation of the topic.
We get a lot of comments on IndefinitelyWild and, believe it or not, I try to respond to all of them. The way I see it is, I work for my readers and, if you have questions, it’s my job to answer them. Thank you for creating an intelligent, contributive community that adds real value to our work.
This little piece was inspired by a reader named Gary who emailed me asking why I hadn’t responded to his comment on the topic. This is the response I emailed him:
It should also be noted that I am not a lion or a trophy hunter. I hunt for food. That’s just my own agreement with my conscious.
But, I do feel it’s my duty as an animal lover to point out that hunting is THE major contributor to conservation efforts in Africa. “Conservation” is not some amorphous entity, a single charity or a metaphorical piggy bank people pay into. It’s simply the managed use of natural resources for the purpose of ensuring their survival.
How hunting contributes to that is that it attaches an economic value to the animals. Without that economic value, species like the lion would have been killed off long ago. The locals don’t want them. But, because assholes like Walter Palmer will fly over and pay $50k+ to shoot one, that makes them valuable enough that land owners who would otherwise almost exclusively farm cattle instead set aside their land for wildlife conservation. Cattle farming is TERRIBLE for the wildlife, it involves destroying natural vegetation, thereby destroying habitat, and necessitates the killing of predators. It also doesn’t protect the wildlife from poaching. That’s a perfect storm for lions and other big, dangerous critters; it’s why they’d all be dead if there wasn’t a value attached to their heads.
So, because of hunting, you have game ranches instead of cattle farms. In them, habitat is fostered and managed specifically to be wildlife friendly. The lions are protected from poachers and dangerous wildlife/human encounters are prevented. Proper management of the populations creates a sustainable, growing resource from which a few select lions can be culled, resulting in a net profit. In South Africa, private game ranches now cover an area equal to the country’s national parks.
Where those profits go is irrelevant to this particular conversation we’re having. The take away is that lion hunting is a profitable industry that increases the populations of lions and other large animals.
The big evils that reduce wildlife populations more than conservation efforts like managed hunting can offset are habitat loss and poaching. Both are things addressed by the for-profit industry as I’ve explained above, but they’re so bad that animal populations are still falling.
It should also be noted that for-profit game reserves are able to achieve their benefits in countries that don’t have tourism — places like Chad or the Central African Republic — and as money earners owned by rich, powerful dudes, are better equipped to survive the political turbulence and corruption that are so common across the 53 different countries that exist in sub-Saharan Africa.
As an animal lover, I can understand the sentiments that so often cloud this discussion. But if we reduce that conversation simply to cause and effect, I’m sure you can see why hunting benefits lions and other African game animals. I couldn’t imagine killing a lion, but it’s more important to me that lions continue existing than it is to cast judgement on the people who pay for lion hunts. I’ve been vocal about this issue for that reason, I see it as my duty as an animal lover to speak for their benefit.
Here’s some further reading on the issue, from sources other than myself:
From here on out, I will respond to questions about this topic by directing people to this post. You should feel free to do the same.
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