The US Endangered Species Act was created in 1973 to protect species in not only the Continental US but worldwide. The recent notion to add African and Indian lions to the list as one at the same level of endangerment may be flawed.
The lion population in Africa is fickle. There is no debate that habitat loss is the number one factor affecting lion populations. In today’s world, this is the case for almost all animal species. Habitat loss goes hand in hand with human interaction and is a serious threat to both local people and the wildlife.
The loss of habitat is something that has created great fluctuations in lion populations from region to region. While Africa’s lion population is estimated at 23,000 lions, upwards of 80% of that population inhabits less than 20% of the continent. While many areas of Africa have a declining lion population, there are other areas where populations are very strong.
Human encroachment into lion habitat is a top killer of lions due primarily to retaliatory killings. Livestock and sometimes even people are viewed as prey to a hungry lion. When one of these ‘problem lions’ arises, it is often killed along with other lions nearby.
Habitat loss, human encroachment and retaliatory killings have made much of the lion population in Africa not able to withstand additional population loss due to hunting. Game preserves, national parks, trusts and conservation areas are home to viable populations of lion. Like any sustainable population, there is a need for management.
In these preserves and parks where lion populations are healthy, it’s hunter dollars and hunters themselves who put in the legwork to truly maintain a healthy population. Hunters spend over 20 million dollars on lion hunts alone each year. The average lion hunt costs between $15,000 and $50,000, more than half of which is put back into the conservation of the species. Anti poaching patrols, land management, land acquisition and direct monetary compensation to local villagers are just a few ways money from hunting is allocated.
Lion hunting is strictly managed. Hunters -mostly Americans- kill on average between 600-700 lions per year in Africa. This equates to about 2% of the population which is a very small number in regards to wildlife management standards which generally put a healthy harvest around 15%. This minimal hunter harvest isn’t coming from areas with low populations. Instead it comes from areas mostly in Southern Africa where populations are healthy.
At first glance the recent move to list lions under the US Endangered Species Act and creating a ban on the importation of lions into the US seems like a viable solution to help save the struggling lion population. Species like the Indian/Asiatic lion which has less than 200 breeding females in the wild is certainly a species which can’t afford any loss by the hands of man. A move to protect truly endangered species such as this would never be contested, especially by hunters.
While the proposed ban on lions is a step towards realizing that additional conservation efforts may be necessary to save lions in some areas, the realization that it may hurt the true conservation efforts of hunters may be irreversible once enacted. While the act may stop trophy hunting of less stable populations of lions, it may lead to degradation of healthy lion populations.
What hunting brings to the table of conservation is ‘value’. Value to the wildlife – lions – and value to the land in which they inhabit. A value which directly stimulates the local economy in a way not reached through ecotourism or idealistic emotions from groups a world away.
Why are We Still Hunting Lions?
Lion Population 2012
Lions are at Risk
Lions are Now Protected Under the Endangered Species Act