There's yet another struggle between hunters and anti-hunters, this time on the topic of lion hunting in Africa. We first alerted Realtree readers to the brewhaha last March, which was sparked by a petition by anti-hunting groups to add the African lion to the Endangered Species Act, set in 2011. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened a 60-day comment period that closed Jan. 28, 2013. To date, it has received more than 300,000 comments. However, it is likely that most of the comments came as a result of anti-hunting organizations and their campaigns to “get out the vote,” so to say. The USFWS does look at the substance of these comments, but it is pure political pressure when animal rights groups generate so many identical comments. Especially comments based on emotion, rather than science.
At the heart of this controversy is the bothersome topic of whether the United States should shut down lion hunting in Africa. Taking a more examined approach, the question is why would this country’s Fish & Wildlife Service make it illegal to import African lion trophies to this country in the first place? Would it be a decision based on true animal science or gut-wrenching emotion?
On June 26, the USFWS held a closed workshop to discuss the status of the African lion and invited representatives of Safari Club International, along with two scientists from Africa: Dr. Dennis Ikanda, Principal Research Officer for the Kingupira Wildlife Research Centre at the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania, and Dr. Paula White, Director of the Zambia Lion Project.
They met the opposition: representatives from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society of the United States, and Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA. The opposition even published a report titled “The $200 Million Dollar Question: How much does trophy hunting really contribute to African communities?” In the report, prepared by the research group “Economists at Large,” it stated African “communities in the areas where hunting occurs derive very little benefit from this revenue.” In fact, it claims that only 3 percent reaches local communities, if that much.
Of course, the report never addresses the economic value that lion hunting brings to the lion itself, encouraging local communities to conserve their lions rather than allow them to be poached.
USFWS Director Dan Ashe attended the workshop. It is reported that early in the meeting, he said, “We are not here to litigate trophy hunting.”
In a phone interview on June 28, Dr. Ikanda told me he expected a lot of bullying from the antis while at the meeting, but was pleasantly surprised at the level of courtesy shown throughout the workshop. He said, “The most promising result was the consensus the lion is not on the brink of extinction.”
Dr. White added, “The petitioners cherry-picked their data, cited a scientific reference and could not defend their points.”
Dr. White, recognized as a leader in African lion research, currently is working on development of a regionally accurate age-based trophy selection program for lions in Zambia in an effort to promote sustainable hunting. She described it in this way: “Imagine that a whitetail hunter goes out with a guide, and that guide tells him that a spike buck is a mature whitetail. The hunter would know better.”
She wants to engage hunters who spend small fortunes – up to $70,000 – so that they are more educated about lions, and therefore can truly participate as conservationists in an effort to keep a balance in an already thriving system.
As for the claim that African lions are being overhunted, Dr. Ikanda said, “We do not believe so. We have a concrete harvest management regime in place. The number of harvests are very low, and most lion populations are stable.” Tanzania is home to about 50 percent of the lion population in Africa. Dr. Ikanda is developing a tool that ages lions that have been taken during hunts.
Americans make up 60 to 70 percent of the hunting force annually in Africa. Both scientists agreed that if the American hunting population were to leave, the vacuum would be filled. They, however, believe that American hunters bring a different mindset to the hunting world than say, Chinese or Eastern European hunters. American hunters come from conservation backgrounds, typically have attended Hunter Education courses, and for the most part are educated on regulations and conservation practices in place in their homeland and are known worldwide for their ethics.
Dr. White believes, “Americans are willing to pay more for the privilege of hunting lions.”
The USFWS will make its decision about the African lion status early next year. In the meantime, please let your voice be heard in support of allowing U.S. hunters to travel to Africa to hunt, which makes vital financial contributions to those rural economies and supports lion conservation. You can visit the USFWS page regarding this subject, and although comments are closed, you can join its social media outlets in providing your opinion.
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Brian Lovett, Realtree's news blogger, has been an outdoors reporter, writer, magazine editor and book author for 27 years. Spring turkey hunting and autumn waterfowling take up most of his outside time, but he also enjoys fishing, deer hunting and upland-bird hunting. Lovett lives in Oshkosh, Wis., with his wife, Jenny, and their retriever.