Not much seems to have changed in the appetite for triumphal photos among big-game enthusiasts since Ernest Hemingway had this trophy hunting picture made in January 1934. When Hemingway shot this lion, they were thought to number 250.000 or more in Africa and their range covered most of the continent. There were large populations across Turkey, India and southwest Asia, sadly, they exist no longer.
While habitat loss and human-wildlife conflicts are the primary causes of the lions’ disappearance from Africa’s forests and savannahs, legal and illegal trophy hunting adds to the problem. Commercial utilization of wild lion populations is a highly political issue but is largely allowed in many African countries as an allegedly venture to deliver capital.
When Cecil, the lion was killed near Hwange National Park in July 2015 by dentist Dr. Walter Palmer, the killing provoked an international outcry over trophy hunting of big cats and protests outside Palmer’s office forced him to shut down his dental practice for several weeks.
According to Andrew Loveridge, a member of Oxford University’s WildCRU, in his memoir, Lion Hearted: The Life and Death of Cecil and the Future of Africa’s Iconic Cats, 42 of their collared male study animals, including Cecil, have been trophy-hunted since their research began in Zimbabwe in 1999.
“Each removal of a male lion by hunters on the borders of the park created a ‘territorial vacuum’ which drew males from further inside the protected area into boundary areas, where they too became vulnerable to hunters. This is a well-documented biological phenomenon amongst territorial animals, but this was the first time it had been rigorously recorded in lions.”
Trophy hunting for lions has increased in recent decades, mostly in the southern and eastern regions of the continent, in Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, a country that contains about half of Africa’s lions. According to LION ALERT, trophy hunters use three main arguments to continue the practice:
- By giving “value” to lions, of which African rural communities receive a share, they will be more amenable to conserve them;
- By generating revenues trophy hunting makes the maintenance of large tracts of land for wildlife viable;
- Considerable revenues are generated for African nations and as such, consumptive use of lions is part of an overall conservation strategy for wildlife.
But the situation at Hwange National Park area and surrounding show another picture. More than ever, predominantly male lions, are lured out of the protected area into the hunting concessions. There are no benefits going to the people living there. Situations are similar in other African countries. Poaching for bushmeat makes it even worse.
Five months after the killing of Cecil the lion, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added lions in India and western and central Africa to the endangered species’ list. This made it more difficult for United States citizens to legally kill these lions and import their trophies into the U.S. The ban was silently lifted by the Trump administration in October 2017. Since then, reports came out showing that the Trump administration has issued more than three dozen permits to bring lion trophies back home from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Not a single application was denied.
According to this article (July 2018), the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Trump administration now evaluates permit applications on a case-by-case basis, rather than the nation-by-nation basis under Obama. The majority of the 38 granted permits to import trophies were applied for under the Obama administration. More than half of the individuals issued trophy hunting permits have been donors to the Republican Party, President Trump or are linked to Safari Club International.