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The Lion Rules Headlines

A petition by a coalition of anti-hunting environmental groups has led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study whether the African lion should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. An ensuing battle pits preservationists vs. conservationists.

In the past decade, scientific understanding of African lions has grown by leaps and bounds, and so has the conservation planning needed to protect them long-term. But to hear anti-hunters put it, the great cat is precariously close to going extinct. Although it exists in 27 countries, they say, most populations are too small and isolated from others to remain viable without protection. So on March 1, 2011, a coalition of anti-hunting groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list the African lion as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

But a comparison of rhetoric vs. science shows the move to protect the lion is based on emotion, not science. It looks like the environmentalists seek a buy-in from Americans who probably thought Panthera leo leo already was endangered. And that is precisely why American hunters should care about the second-largest cat on Earth. After all, despite use of the word “conservation” nowadays by many environmentalits, it’s really preservation they’re after, and as hunters know preservation doesn’t work on an ever-changing landscape.

Twisting the ESA
The ESA has good aspects. Since 1973, it has prevented the extinction of hundreds of imperiled species of fauna and flora. But an ESA listing does not protect foreign species like it does our own, as it applies “only to people subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,” says the Service. ESA protection would not prevent retaliatory lion killing by Africans protecting their livestock, or their lives. And it would not curb poaching or habitat loss.

It would not stop the trophy hunting of lions, but it would bar American hunters from importing lion trophies to the States, thereby creating significant loss of income to African communities and conservation. It would also open the door to hunters from other countries who do not practice our ethics. And of course it would satisfy anti-hunting groups that threaten to sue.

Enter the coalition: the Born Free Foundation, Born Free USA, Defenders of Wildlife, The Fund for Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The lion lives halfway across the globe: It’s likely many Americans have not noticed this move, and many more don’t care about the lion anyway. Seems like an easy target. They know that after an animal is given ESA protection, little stands in the way of a bureaucratic machine bent on carrying out orders (see: wolf).

But their “facts” are full of holes.

Depending on which organization’s fact sheet one reads, fewer than 40,000 lions exist today, or 32,000, or only 21,000. Of all the threats to the lion, they say, the one that directly involves U.S. citizens is “over-utilization for commercial or recreational purposes” (read: hunting).

The lion fact sheet from Defenders of Wildlife reads like a Disney script: “Lions within a pride are often affectionate and, when resting, seem to enjoy good fellowship with lots of touching, head rubbing, licking and purring.”

Information from other sources isn’t much better. An August 2013 article published on Weather.com reports “just seven countries in Africa have 1,000 or more individuals. … Trophy hunting is also a big problem.”

Enter Science
Notwithstanding the dubious efficacy of reporting vast discrepancies to the American public, Pollyanna viewpoints or why a weather website runs a piece on lions, hunters entered the fray to counter the nonsense.

Last March, Alexander Songorwa, Tanzania’s top wildlife official, wrote The New York Times to praise the “critical role” hunters play in African communities. Hunting generated $75 million for Tanzania’s economy between 2008-2011, he said, providing funds to sustain wildlife and to build schools and roads and dig wells.

The Safari Club International Foundation (SCIF), a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization that since 2000 has provided more than $50 million for wildlife conservation, outdoor education and humanitarian services worldwide, released its own report last June. The millions spent by hunters dwarf environmentalist expenditures, it says. HSUS, HIS, IFAW and Born Free USA collectively raised $151 million in their most recent fiscal years yet spent only about 1 cent of every dollar raised in Africa. Since 2007, SCIF alone has spent more than $1.1 million in Africa on programs such as lion population surveys and anti-poaching efforts. For 12 years, it has sponsored the African Wildlife Consultative Forum, which invites representatives from most sub-Saharan governments to learn from each other’s successes and failures, and to learn to work together.

In June 2013, USFWS convened a “lion workshop.” Three notable experts addressed attendees: Paula White, director of the Zambia Lion Project; Jason Riggio, principal author of a comprehensive Duke University lion study published last December; and Craig Packer, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota. They were unanimous in their opinion: The lion is not in danger of extinction, said Melissa Simpson, SCIF director of conservation.

Packer also has headed the Serengeti Lion Project since 1978. He co-authored, with three other scientists, a study published in March 2004 in the journal Nature, which was submitted to USFWS for educational and training purposes. It dashes any claims of “over-utilization for commercial and recreational purposes.” Trophy hunting can be sustained, they wrote, by a practice of hunting males above a minimum age threshold that maximizes the quantity and quality of the long-term kill. As long as regulations are honestly enforced, they say, “there is no risk of setting excessive quotas even in areas where it is impossible to estimate the overall population size.”

In all, four peer-reviewed, scientific studies of the lion have been published since 2002. All have reported a stable population of 32,000-37,000 cats spread across 27 countries. Nine countries hold at least 1,000 lions each. At least 24,000 lions live in strongholds defined as: at least 500 lions; legally protected habitat, or an area where hunting is managed; and a population whose numbers are either stable or increasing. There are 10 strongholds across Africa, wrote Simpson in an article published by National Geographic online.

The primary threat to the lion is habitat destruction; in the last century perhaps 80 percent of its historic range was lost. More lions die in retaliatory killings than by any other cause. An ESA listing would not affect such factors. Instead it would remove lion hunters from lion country, thus eliminating a major barrier to poaching and increasing habitat loss, because if the land is not used for hunting it will be used for something that likely degrades it. Without hunters and the money they spend in Africa (about $200 million annually), any economic incentive for local communities to protect lions erodes.

Many countries have healthy lion populations and use hunting as a conservation tool. An ESA listing would actually run counter to proven science. Time will tell whether Panthera leo leo is protected to death or conserved for the future. In the meantime, it’s nice to know hunters are reclaiming use of the word “conservation” from those who would usurp it, even if the vast majority of us will never hunt Africa’s great cat.

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1 Response to The Lion Rules Headlines

R. Penrod wrote:
March 13, 2014

The article by J. Scott Olmsted in the March 2014 edition of American Hunter titled “The Lions Rules Headlines” was a major disappointment in that it didn’t reflect the reality of how things truly are in Africa. The article was very one-sided and rather typical of the media in that you tell us what you want us to hear and not what’s really going on because it doesn’t benefit you. I honestly can’t speak on whether or not specifically listing the African lion as endangered would help or hurt its chances of survival. What I can speak on though is the fact that the lion’s existence on this earth IS in danger and it’s because of the wealthy (mostly American) hunters that have an insatiable need to bag an African lion no matter what. At least half of the lions in South Africa alone are trapped within 150+ farms that are part of the canned hunting industry (www.cannedlion.org). Within hours of being born, a cub is taken away from its mother, raised by humans (usually within the cub petting industry) so it’s habituated to them, and then when it’s old enough and can no longer be cuddled by tourists, it’s sold off for a rather large profit to the farm (so they can afford to keep breeding lions), put within a fenced enclosure so it can’t escape (therefore eliminating “fair chase”), and is shot at by very high paying hunters until it finally dies. The few “lucky” lions that aren’t drugged up and relocated to an enclosure to be killed are made into breeders. And while their lives may be a bit longer, it’s not a good life as most are routinely abused and many die of malnutrition. These breeding farms also capture wild lions to introduce fresh DNA into the groups. So between the lions born within the breeding farms for the sole purpose of being killed and the wild lions being taken from the wild for their fresh DNA, there definitely needs to be something done to protect the lion from being wiped off the face of the earth within our lifetimes. After speaking with a fellow hunter who travels to Africa every year to hunt, he not only verified what I’d read on various websites about the canned hunting industry, but he also informed me of many of the other gruesome and sad realities of lion hunting in SA. Granted, South Africa is a very small area compared to the whole of Africa, but the canned hunting industry spans the entire continent. SA is where it’s the most concentrated though. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are many hunters that are very ethical and moral when hunting in SA (as well as the rest of Africa) and would never take part in such a barbaric and unfathomable practice. But at least ½ if not more of the hunters that can afford to travel to SA, to kill a lion specifically, are not going to leave without having acquired their trophy. Of those hunters, a very small number will take their chances out in the wild where there’s not only no fences, but also the chance that they’ll never even see a lion let alone kill one that’s trophy worthy. Returning to those wealthy hunters (mostly American) that will kill their trophy lion no matter what, they contribute a large amount if not more than half of the $200 million dollars spent across Africa (the financial estimate in your article), but they do so by hunting lions that are trapped within the canned hunting industry. Killing a canned black-manned lion will cost at least $50,000 which goes towards your $200 million dollar estimate. Now maybe you’re aware of the canned hunting industry and don’t have a problem with it, which is exactly the attitude that will drive the lion into extinction. If by some chance you haven’t heard of canned hunting (which I find hard to believe with the research you had to do for your article), please look up www.cannedlion.org so you can be better informed of the whole picture. I’m proud to say that I was raised by my father as a moral and ethical hunter and every animal I’ve killed was not only born and raised out in the wild (not captivity), but there were no fences to keep it from getting away from me. And the money that I spent before, during, and after my hunt not only didn’t go towards funding more animals to be bred in captivity for the sole purpose of being killed, but it also didn’t go towards a corrupt government (part of the $200 million you stated in your article goes straight into the pockets of corrupt SA officials along with the pockets of their leader, President Zuma, the most corrupt of them all). According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, conservation is the “careful preservation and protection of something; especially the planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.” I’d like to believe that most hunters are “reclaiming use of the word conservation” (according to the last sentence in your article) but that’s not at all the case in South Africa where it’s desperately needed the most. When the vast majority of lions in SA are trapped within the canned hunting industry where they’re neglected and exploited on a daily basis, and where many die painfully slow and diseased deaths, you can’t tell me that the hunters you talk about in your article are truly concerned with the conservation of the African lion…those same hunters that will selfishly and cowardly kill a defenseless caged lion.