Lion used to roam throughout Africa. Egyptian pharaohs hunted lion. But the lion was exterminated in North Africa and currently can only be found in sub-Saharan Africa. Tanzania boasts fully half of all of Africa's lion. The other half are scattered hither and yon, with most of them in Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Sport hunting accounts for approximately 1,000 lion a year, according to a reliable estimate. Of those, approximately one-third are shot on high-fenced South African ranches.
From a ecological standpoint, shooting captive-raised lion is a non-issue as it doesn't affect the free-ranging, indigenous population at all.
The other two-thirds of sport hunted lion are taken in true and classic fashion in the most remote parts of the Dark Continent. Indeed, the very nature of the lion requires vast, natural wilderness for his range.
Lion are large predators that require a good supply of prey buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and other game. Also, lion are group hunters that live in very distinct social groupings-a pride. Add that up and you need either a huge national park, like Kenya's Tsavo National Park or South Africa's Kruger National Park, or vase tracts of uninhabited "real Africa" like Tanzania's Moyowosi and Rungwa Game Reserves.
To hunt a lion in these remote, hard-to-access areas is expensive because of the logistics of provisioning a camp, transporting tents and other equipment and getting clients in and out on chartered bush planes. The countries where such hunts take place pay for their anti-poaching programs with "area fees" or "concession fees" that are ultimately paid by sport hunters.
It can be staggeringly expensive to hunt lion in some places. The going rate in Botswana, before lion hunting was closed by the government, was $125,000. A Zimbabwe lion hunt in the Zambezi Valley today costs upward of $40,000. It's double that in Tanzania.
So why is CITES all in a tizzy over the lion as I wrote in my latest blog?
The main reason is that lion are damned hard to count. They don't exactly stand in line for a census. Estimates of their current numbers range from a low of 16,500 to a high of 47,000 continent-wide, a big spread.
Playing off the seemingly low numbers of verifiable lion, the anti-hunters and green radicals have used the "facts" to lobby those countries that are virulently anti-hunting in CITES to uplist the lion to Appendix I.
It's looking grim right now, but we can't give up. We need to fight to save the lion.
Against this anti-lion initiative stands one man. His name is John Jackson. John is a lawyer from Louisiana who single-handedly runs a little-known non-profit entity called Conservation Force. Jackson's work at Conservation Force is proactive and resourceful, but it's a bit of a little Dutchboy with his fingers in the anti-hunting dam. John needs our help.
Safari Club International and the Dallas Safari Club, both well-run organizations, are helping as well, but my personal opinion is that John's Conservation Force is leading this fight.
If you have any interest in Africa, in its lion and in stopping the anti's latest effort to demonize sport hunting through a highly emotional attack on a vulnerable predator, send a donation to Conservation Force. You can reach John at www.conservationforce.org.