The recent outrage over the illegal hunting of Cecil the Lion reminded me of an analysis I compiled in 2013 about African lion tourism. A thorough review of the literature at the time demonstrated that the story of trophy hunting for lions is not straightforward as many make it out to be. Yes, the moral argument is clear – hunting of a majestic, endangered animal is wrong. However, the conservation science and sustainability argument is more complex. The income generated from hunting lions may be significant. Hunting a lion for sport costs a tourist between $24,000 and $71,000 – the highest price for any trophy animal. In theory, much of this funding should be directed to the local communities and habitat conservation which should promote the protection of lions and other creatures. However, this element of the argument becomes murky – there are many unknowns about the particulars of the funding streams from the tourists to the local communities. Corruption and private entities may get in the way and the funds may be funneled into the wrong hands. More in-depth economics research is needed to accurately identify and quantify the funding generated from trophy hunting. I fear, however, that research in this particular area would be met with many obstacles, including opaque, non-transparent bureaucratic barriers and perhaps danger to the researcher. We do know a few important facts and figures, however, about lion tourism to date. The excerpt from this report discusses the “No-Hunting” and the “Southern African” models of wildlife management. The no-hunting model is implemented in India and Kenya; wildlife hunting is banned. In the Southern African model (as examined here in South Africa and Tanzania), however, hunting – including trophy hunting – is allowed. Wildlife tourism, both consumptive (e.g. hunting) and non-consumptive (e.g. photography), contribute to the Southern African economy.
Want to know more about the specifics of lion ecology and tourism? Read on.
African Lion (Panthera leo leo)
The African lion (Panthera leo leo) is an iconic predator whose populations have been declining for the past 50 years due to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict. Lions depend on large swaths of habitat and prey including zebras, wildebeest, and springbok. They live in prides of four to six members, which consist of related females and their cubs as well as a dominant male. Females hunt and raise young communally. Typically, lions live in open woodlands or scrub and grass complexes where sufficient cover is provided for hunting and denning. They are found in most countries in eastern and southern Africa, yet they survive in only 22% of their historical range (IUCN 2006a,b; Bauer 2008).
African lions live on both protected and private lands, although there are fewer lions outside protected areas than in the past. In 1990, 75% of African lions lived outside protected areas, while in 2002, 50% did (Ferreras and Cousins 1996, Chardonnet 2002). This decline may be attributed to high levels of human-wildlife conflict on unprotected lands.
African lions have been listed on the IUCN Red list as Vulnerable since 1996. Recent estimates suggest that the lion population has undergone a 30% to 50% reduction over the past two decades with current estimates ranging from 23,000 to 39,000 (IUCN 2012)
The African lion is listed on CITES II, which allows international trade with an export permit. In 2004, a proposal to transfer the lion from CITES II to CITES I (and restrict all international trade) was denied. This meeting drew national attention to the lion population decline and prompted IUCN to organize regional workshops in Africa to assess the status of lion conservation.
Trophy hunting is permitted in South Africa and Tanzania, but not in Kenya. Hunting quotas are established by wildlife departments, typically based on rough population estimates (Baker 1997). Trophy hunting of lions generates significant income for local communities, which is attributed to its high market value. Lions attract the highest prices of all trophy species, on average $24,000 – $71,000 (Lindsey et al. 2012). Lions contribute 5-17% to trophy hunting incomes in each country. Trophy hunting tourists contribute additional revenue including fees to hunt other animals, lodging, and transportation.
Lion trophy hunting was recently banned in Botswana; studies have shown that this ban cost the trophy hunting industry 10% of total revenues (US$1.26 million) and has adversely affected community conservation efforts (Lindsey Roulet 2006, Peake, 2004b). A ban on trophy hunting may confer additional costs or losses of revenue to other tourism providers, such as the hotel and wildlife watching industries.
However, trophy hunting may impact population dynamics of lions. Loveridge et al. found that trophy hunters typically target males and therefore skew sex ratios in favor of adult females. As males are removed from the population, males from outside the pride replace them and may commit infanticide (2007). Interestingly, in certain countries such as South Africa, up to 90% of lions hunted for sport are captive bred (Damm 2005). Lindsey et al. also suggest that the captive-bred hunting industry in South Africa has grown while the number of wild lions hunted has declined (2012).
Local Perceptions and Threats
In general, local people perceive lions as a threat to their livelihoods and income-generating opportunities. Lions may prey on livestock, attack people, or otherwise reduce available land for human settlement (Abe et al. 2003). Lion conservation efforts have not historically involved local communities until recently. A 2006 IUCN workshop found that local communities support lion conservation actions given that they are given a stake in management.
Threats to lions include poisoning, trapping, and shooters by farmers and herders, habitat loss and fragmentation, scarcity of wild prey, and inbreeding/small populations, improperly managed trophy hunting (Bauer 2008, Trinkel et al 2010). Although habitat fragmentation is listed as a threat, a recent study suggests that lions residing within fenced reserves maintain populations closer to carrying capacity and require $500/Km2 annually for management, while lions in unfenced reserves maintain much lower densities and over $2000/km2 for management (Packer et al. 2013). This suggests that physical separation of lions from human settlements via fences mitigates conflict, reduces management costs and may prevent further declines.
Root causes of these threats include human population growth, expanding settlement, poverty, and armed conflict which prevents tourism and enables wildlife poaching and illegal trade. Illegal hunting and trade is another issue for African lions. Although comprehensive data sets do not exist, illegal trade in cubs, skins, and body parts is common. Wares are exported to Asia, typically for use in traditional medicine and souvenirs. Illegal hunting and trade persist due to ineffective law enforcement and lack of motivation (IUCN 2006).
Proposed Listing of the Lion on the ESA
In 2011, a group of conservation organizations (IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife) submitted a proposal to list the African lion on the Endangered Species Act. If passed, import of trophy lions into the US would be banned (except for imports that enhance the species’ propagation or scientific purposes). The proposal claims that trophy hunting is unsustainable and contributing to severe declines of the lion populations (Place et al. 2011). The proposal also states that existing regulatory mechanisms such as CITES are inadequate to conserve the species, and that a US listing would attract international attention for the species. Lindsey et al. 2012 suggest that the reduction of hunting by American tourists would be detrimental to communities that rely on trophy hunting funds to control lion populations and combat poaching. Additional studies have offered alternative actions which may make trophy hunting more sustainable including reducing quotas, improving oversight to prevent illegal activities and setting restrictions to allow for shooting of only the oldest male lions (Loveridge and Macdonald 2002, Whitman et al. 2004, Packer et al. 2011). As of April 2013, this proposed listing has undergone a public comment period and is under a 12 month review by the USFWS.
African lion conservation: A comparison between models
This case study can be used to compare the effectiveness of the South African (for Tanzania) and No-Hunting (for Kenya) models in terms of their ability to support populations of African lions that generate revenues for local communities. The lion range in Tanzania covers 92% of the country, 45% of which is located inside protected areas (Mesochina et al. 2010). Tanzania has the largest lion population in Africa (estimated at 16,800 individuals) and is first in terms of lion trophy hunting; about 200 lions are legally harvested each year. This figure does not include illegal harvests (Mesochina et al 2010). Due to the lack of robust data, it is unknown whether lion populations in Tanzania are declining, stable, or increasing.
The director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism recently published an op-ed the New York Times speaking out against the proposed ESA listing (Songorwa 2013). Songorwa wrote that lion hunters pay $9,800 to hunt lions; an average of $1,960,000 (60% of the trophy hunting market) is generated each year (Songorwa 2013). Listing the species on the ESA and concurrent loss of this revenue would be detrimental to conservation efforts and game reserves in Tanzania.
By contrast, habitat available for lions in Kenya covers less than half of the country (KWS 2008). Kenya has been losing 100 lions per year for the past seven years, leaving the country with just 2000 individuals (Barley 2009). At this rate, lions will go extinct in Kenya within 20 years. Lion populations are crashing due to habitat destruction and conflicts with humans. Many rural Kenyan communities are killing lions by poisoning animal carcasses with a pesticide, Carbofuran, which can be purchased over the counter (Mynott 2008).
Furthermore, hunting is prohibited in Kenya and no revenues are generated from trophy hunting. Lions, however, bring in significant revenues from ecotourism. Annually, Kenya’s 2000 remaining lions could be worth $17,000 each, or $34 million total, in the ecotourism sector (Barley 2009). The beneficiaries of lion tourism include the government and private tourism operators; however, these stakeholders are not living alongside lions everyday. Landowners who live near lions are more in control of their populations, but do not receive financial benefits and hence do not have the incentive to conserve them (Nelson 2012).
It is difficult to conclude which model (the Southern African or the No-Hunting) is working better for lions based simply on the model itself, but based on lion population abundance and trends, funds generated, and social support, lions are faring better in Tanzania than they are in Kenya. Tanzania has a larger population of lions, is experiencing less steep declines, and generates revenues from both trophy hunting and ecotourism. Tanzania also has more protected areas which means that there is less direct contact between people and lions. However, threats to the lion persist despite the model. An inclusion of additional countries within the Southern African model could allow for more robust comparisons.
References and the full text of the paper “Comparisons of national wildlife management strategies: what works, where and why?” can be found here. Authored by Rachel Golden, Shalynn Pack, and Ashley Walker.
Do you have updated facts and figures on status or policies related to African lions? Please comment!