Without question of a doubt, Africa’s lion population is in a vulnerable state. A fact that is not debated by hunters or animal lovers. Africa had an estimated 450,000 lions 60 years ago yet has only 20-25,000 lions today. With lion populations declining across the continent finding a safe haven for 200 excess lions should be easy.
In 2015 when Cecil the lion was shot, it sent one of the largest shockwaves of the last decade through modern society in regards to wildlife. While the voice of the hunting and conservation communities were largely ignored by the mass cries of emotion, the USFWS made lions a protected species under the Endangered Species Act which essentially brought a cease to trophy hunting for lions in Africa.
Turn the clock forward a few months and the first cry for help comes through the telegraph. A cry not necessarily for hunting but for management and protection of lion populations in the absence of hunting. In just 8 months since Cecil was killed and 3 months since the USFWS protected lions under the ESA, wildlife preserves are starting to suffer from what they are calling the “Cecil Effect”. The 2,000 square mile Bubye Valley Conservancy which has over 500 lions is warning their lion population has become unsustainable due to lack of hunting. In order to manage and maintain balance throughout all the species present in Bubye, up to 200 lions are currently in danger.
These 200 lions could end up being part of a ‘cull’ to maintain a healthy population which meets the carrying capacity of the Bubye Valley Conservancy. With a lack of hunter dollars coming in and no way to manage lion populations, what the lions need now is help. Lion hunting in Zimbabwe is all but obsolete and without immediate assistance from hunters and hunter dollars, Bubye’s 200 excess lions are depending on the millions of people who have pushed for the preservation of lions vs the conservation of lions.
Bubye’s cry for help is an opportunity for these millions of so called wildlife activists who spoke out in defense of Cecil to save a species. Two hundred lions or 1% of the total remaining lion population is a substantial number. These excess lions offer wildlife protection groups the opportunity to prove that lions can be not only stabilized, but increased in the absence of hunting as the number form of conservation. Difficulty finding safe places for these lions to roam while being protected from poachers and not jeopardizing human safety has become reality in the absence of hunters and hunter dollars.
With the potential to supply refuge and ensure reproduction of 1% of the current estimated population of lions in Africa today, all eyes are on animal rights groups worldwide. These 200 lions cannot be saved through the grass roots efforts of hunting at this juncture. The future of these lions are almost purely dependent on the funds from ecotourism and wildlife protection groups which just don’t seem to be fulfilling their promised role in lion conservation.
Moving forward, as the world’s foremost conservationists hunters will continue to support lion conservation however, the direct monetary loss of hunter dollars toward lion conservation specifically may be an irreversible effect. In the end, Bubye’s 200 lions at risk are in that position due to namely to the abrupt cease in lion hunting. These lions lives are now in jeopardy while they wait for any of the millions of voices who spoke out against hunting to step forward.