A PLoS ONE scientific publication co-authored by Panthera’s scientists, Peter Lindsey and Guy Balme, on the significance of African lions for the financial viability of the trophy hunting industry was recently posted on USA Today’s ScienceFair Forum. This study assessed the significance of lions to the financial viability of trophy hunting across five African countries – Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia - to help determine the economic impact and advisability of recently proposed restrictions to limit or ban the import of lion trophies.
Lions are particularly susceptible to excess trophy harvests, in part because of infanticide in which trophy-hunted pride males are naturally replaced by new males that kill all the cubs in a pride to hasten the onset of oestrus in the females. Excessive removal of males accelerates infanticide so that lionesses lack a safe ‘window’ in which to raise a cohort of cubs to independence. Several studies have highlighted clear negative impacts on lion populations from trophy hunting. These findings have resulted in increasing pressure for the listing of lions on CITES Appendix 1, and for restrictions on the import of lion trophies into the US and the EU. Such restrictions would likely greatly curtail trophy hunting of lions and thus reduce negative impacts of hunting on lions. However, such restrictions would also remove financial incentives for lion conservation from hunting.
The Panthera team assessed the likely impact of restricting lion hunting on the financial viability of trophy hunting. Our data suggest that blanket restrictions on the trade in lion trophies could potentially make trophy hunting economically unviable across an area of 60,000 km2 in total, about 4 times the size of the Serengeti National Park. That represents about 11% of the area in which lions are currently hunted. There is a risk that this 60,000 km2 would be lost if lion hunting was banned outright, most of which is in Tanzania (44,000km2), which is significant, although not nearly as much as expected.
If trophy hunting became less viable in such areas, there is a risk that those lands would be turned over to alternative land use options which may be less favourable for lion conservation. An alternative to imposing blanket restrictions on the trade in lion trophies, is to better regulate lion hunting and ensure that quotas are capped at conservative levels which are likely to be sustainable. If lion quotas were set at a maximum of 0.5 individuals /1,000 km2, for example, sufficient returns from trophy hunting would be retained to avoid the loss of economic viability, except in about 7000 km2. Other key interventions needed to promote the sustainability of trophy hunting include minimum age limits on lion trophies and for the monitoring of trophy hunting and adaptive management of quotas in response to changes in lion populations.
In summary, while we accept that trophy hunting of lions can generate incentives for the retention of wildlife, there is an urgent need for a far more conservative approach that reduces the risks to lions of unsustainable practises. To achieve that scenario, there is a need for urgent action from all stakeholders, and especially from the hunting industry to ensure that off-takes are reduced where necessary. In the absence of such interventions, trophy hunting of lions may do more harm than good.
Read the scientific publication to learn about this study’s fascinating results, or check out the USA Today article excerpt below for more information.
View a gallery of Panthera’s African lion photos.
Learn more about Panthera's Project Leonardo.
Excerpt from USA Today article, Study: Limited lion hunting better than outright ban:
Weighing economic costs and benefits of lion hunting, the team concludes that for some countries, lion hunts help conservation efforts, and for others, they are a losing proposition:
"Estimated mean returns on investments (ROIs) from trophy hunting were highest in Tanzania, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and were negative in Zambia and Mozambique. The majority of hunting blocks in Tanzania and (to a lesser extent) Zimbabwe were estimated to be viable, whereas the majority of those in Zambia and Mozambique were estimated to be unviable regardless of the status of lion hunting."
Rather than banning hunting, the team calls for limiting the number of lions bagged by hunters, to perhaps one lion per 772 square miles of territory in a hunting reserve, along with restrictions on shooting young lions:
"While trophy hunting could survive without lion hunting in most areas, the species is an important financial component of an industry which is marginal in some areas and vulnerable to reductions in profitability. Blanket trade restrictions would unfairly punish countries where lion hunting is well managed, and could be negative for lions by undermining the competitiveness of wildlife-based land uses and by undermining tolerance for lions which are typically a high-cost species due to their tendency to kill livestock."
For countries where lion hunting is poorly managed and is harming the species, temporary halts to hunting would allow the populations to recover while better management systems are put in place.
"Lion populations recover quickly when the pressure of excessive harvests is removed. Consequently, over-hunting is likely to pose little threat to the long term persistence of lions so long as interventions are made to address excessive quotas where they occur. Conversely, if lion hunting was banned, and wildlife-based land uses were replaced by alternatives in some areas, the long term prospects for lion conservation in those areas would be poor and reversing negative trends would be unlikely."
So overall, they find that, "(p)recluding lion hunting may therefore be a greater long term risk to lions than over-hunting. That said, urgent efforts are needed by range states to reform lion hunting management, and temporary moratoria could be considered for use as levers to promote such changes."