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Hunting of African lions contributes to lion conservation, researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WILDCRU) of Oxford University conclude in a new report to the government of the United Kingdom.
The report highlights the important role that hunting plays in protecting lion habitat. Conversion of wild lands to agriculture and human settlement has contributed to large-scale habitat loss, which is one of the most serious threats to African lions. Hunting occurs on more than 1.4 million km2 of land in sub-Saharan Africa, which is 22% larger than all of Africa’s national parks combined.
SCI Foundation Conservation staff were consulted by the WILDCRU research team and provided vital information about the conservation benefits of hunting in Africa, and lion hunting in particular. The report cites the recent SCI Foundation report compiled by Southwick and Associates on the Economic Contribution of Hunting-Related Tourism in Eastern and Southern Africa, which estimated a value-added contribution of $426 million from hunting to the economies of eight African countries.
While the WILDCRU report notes that if done unsustainably, lion hunting can have detrimental impacts to lion populations at the local level, they find little evidence that hunting negatively impacts lion populations at the national or regional level. SCI Foundation has been a leader in initiating and funding research on field-based lion aging techniques and improving lion census methods to ensure the sustainability of lion hunting, in line with its mission of applying the best available science to wildlife management and policy.
CITES parties voted to keep African lion on Appendix II at the most recent Conference of Parties, ensuring that lion trophy specimens can continue to be imported by hunters. The WILDCRU team was tasked with determining what actions the UK government should take in further regulating import of lion trophies into the UK. Trade data show that UK hunters annually import only 3 lions nationally, on average, meaning that any regulatory actions the UK government takes will be largely symbolic, but could establish a precedent for other European nations.
The WILDCRU report does encourage the UK government to establish criteria for importation that are more strict than what is required under a CITES Appendix II listing, which SCI Foundation deems unnecessary and burdensome for hunters, outfitters and African lion range states. These criteria are similar to those being proposed by the US government under its Threatened listing of African lion under the Endangered Species Act, and include assurances on the sustainability of lion management programs such as the existence of age-based harvest criteria and quotas based on lion density.
One of the most contentious recommendations of the WILDCRU report is a call for strict accreditation of hunters through membership in associations that impose rigid standards for hunters (such as demonstrated marksmanship ability and adherence to fair chase principles). While this recommendation sounds good in theory, it could potentially limit hunting opportunities to only a select few individuals who are able to meet the membership requirements of these organizations, thus serving as a disincentive to hunt lions and decreasing their value as a game species. Anything that lowers the value of lions ultimately leaves them more susceptible to retaliatory killing by the local people who have to endure the high cost of living with them.
SCI Foundation is pleased to contribute credible research and scientific findings to a respected body like WILDCRU, and is grateful that the voices of hunters were taking into consideration for this report. While some of the recommendations made in the report are of questionable value to lion conservation, the recognition of the strong role that hunting plays in lion conservation is a resounding endorsement of the mission of SCI Foundation and its partners.