Musings on Lions, Hunters and Hunting

Posted On : Aug 14, 2015

Posted By : Tom Murphy

Musings on Lions, Hunters and Hunting

A bit of time has passed since the dentist / lion brouhaha, so maybe emotions have cooled a bit and it’s now appropriate to take a good look at what really happened.

I don’t profess to be an expert on anything, including African hunting, but I have been going on Safari since 1995.  Mostly what I’ve learned is that if you haven’t been to Africa, haven’t been on a hunting safari, and haven’t walked in a hunter’s shoes, then you really don’t have a grasp on what Africa is all about.

There’s a song that has been sung around campfires for many a year.  Originally called “Mbube” (Zulu), it has been recorded by numerous artists and is known in the English-speaking world as Wimoweh, or The Lion Sleeps Tonight.  One of the lines goes, “Hush, hush, my darling, don’t fear my darling.”

This was a mother’s lament to her child saying that the lion is asleep, so the danger is past.  You see, the lion in Africa is not viewed as a nice, friendly sort that likes to star in Disney films.  It is seen as an apex predator that’s not terribly particular what it feeds on. 

Lion Graphic   Lion with Mouse     Cute Lion Cartoon

Africa villagers who loose crops, animals and humans view lions, and other predators, as very dangerous killers to be avoided at all costs.  In Kenya, the Kenya Wildlife Service stated that every lion consumes almost $300 in farm animals per year.  When the annual income is $1200 per capita, this loss is unbearable.  Farmers see lions as vermin that need to be killed.

Africans don’t give lions cute names like Simba or Cecil.  If any name is applied to a lion, it usually has very negative connotations.  From what I’ve been able to learn, no one on the Zimbabwean Wildlife Board had ever heard of a lion called Cecil.  This lion was not a “beloved” and famous tourist attraction. He had a radio tracking collar only and was not a semi-domesticated animal.  Unfortunately, this one event has help tarnish the role that professional, managed, legal hunting can play in wildlife conservation.

No lion dies of old age.  Old males battle younger males for pride leadership.  They can suffer major injuries, or be driven out of the pride and surrounding territories.  Either way, an old male lion will die of its wounds or starvation.  Both ways result in a painful, slow death.  This is the reality for most animals in Africa.  It’s not living to a ripe advanced age that ends its life. It’s survival of the fittest, and die when age slows it down.  An adult male like this one, usually lives between 12 to 14 years, which is an average age in the wild.  A male lion this age is way past breeding, and is the most expendable member of the lion population.

Male Lion on the savanna     lionesses drinking    

Zimbabwe controls its lion hunting, and shares the resulting revenue through the Community Areas Management Program for Indigenous Resources (CAMPFIRE).  Zim’s lion population is estimated at 1,600-1,800.  On an average, 10 to 40 lions per year are taken through legal hunting.  This amounts to less than the natural death rate for adult lions.  Permit fees are channeled back into lion conservation to insure the health of the animal population.  Estimated return through CAMPFIRE is $20 million per year in direct income; the vast majority coming from legal hunting.

On the other side is Kenya, and how it handles its lion population.  Kenya closed the entire country to hunting in 1977.  At that time, lion population was estimated to be right at 167,000.  By 1989, the lion population had deteriorated to less then 16,000.  The lion had no commercial value, and was considered a pest that needed to be poisoned, snared, trapped, or killed outright – whatever it took to remove the vermin from the land.  Now, about the only areas where lions can be seen are at five star resorts like Mara Bushtops near Masai Mara National Park, where semi-tame animals watch you watching them.

In Zimbabwe, as well as other African countries, only hunters with proper permits are allowed to hunt lions.  Their Professional Hunter (PH) is responsible for knowing concession boundaries, local restrictions, and which animals can be legally hunted.  The average hunter, be they from America, Germany, Australia, or any other country, will not, and should not have to have all of this information.  The hunter is completely dependent on the PH, or outfitter, to have all the necessary paperwork, permits, and area boundaries in advance, and be able to guide the hunter in the proper direction.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, banning legal hunting of lions would do little, or nothing, when it comes to preserving the species.  They have gone on record as saying that “Evidence shows that scientifically sound conservation programs that include limited, well-managed sport hunting can and do contribute to the long-term survival the species.” 

Lion laying in the grass     Lion on a promentory

Major threats to lions include habitat reduction, prey animal population reduction, and the increasing conflict between lions and humans due to human population growth.  Banning trophy hunting or closing trophy importation would do little, if anything, to solve these problems.  In fact, this approach could do more to advance wildlife destruction as opposed to saving it.

What can you do on your part to insure survival of the species, whatever the animal involved, and preserve sport hunting for future generations?  Education.  A lot of the people who have the ability to change sport hunting regulations have never seen a lion that wasn’t behind bars or a glass window.  They truly don’t have a grasp on what Africa is really all about.  Perhaps a letter, or email, offering to educate without ranting might be in order.  First, they have to be wiling to listen, though, which sometimes is a problem.

How about yourself, and your responsibilities when on safari, whatever country you are in – what should you do? How should you act?  What’s changed over the last six months? Times change, rules change, animal quotas change, hunting concessions change.  What I saw on my first safari in 1995 is no longer the norm.  Where I used to hunt, and what I hunted have changed.  My first hunt was in Botswana, on the Okavango Delta.  Botswana is now closed to hunting. 

I recommend contacting a hunt broker like when contemplating a hunt.  A hunt broker is always up on the most current hunting information.  Africa changes rapidly, and you need the most current information.  A reputable hunt broker does not charge the hunter one penny for organizing a safari.

Written by:  Tom Murphy

Writer and Conservationalist

August, 2015