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By Tom Heinecken, founder of Kaing-U Safari Lodge
It has been widely known and publicized that the African lion is on the decline throughout its range. This is for a number of reasons, including habitat loss, hunting and loss of protected area’s where wild lions have sufficient food and also pressure of human encroachment into lion habitat.
The African lion is an icon of wild Africa and for many tourists the main reason they want to come to Africa. Because of the reduction in numbers and due to public pressure to protect lions a number of countries have stopped lion hunting and introduced special protection and conservation status.
Added to the desire of certain people to … “hunt lions” is the recent claim that for Chinese and Eastern medicinal purposes lion bone soup is as effective as tiger bone soup. Even the carcass of a female lion can be worth up to $5000. It is now not only big male lions that are targeted for trophies- it is well known that shooting the dominant male from a pride leads to infanticide (killing of the new cubs by) a new male coming into the pride to bring the females into estrus sooner- this was one of the main reasons for Botswana banning lion trophy hunting. Research had shown that for a number of years no newborn cubs had survived to maturity due to the shooting of the dominant males from the pride for trophies.
One cannot deny that lion and leopard trophies are highly sought after and bring in the most money, so for cash-strapped conservation organizations there is a big temptation to allow the hunting of the most sought after species -the cats. But if proper research can prove that the hunting of cats proves the natural increase can allow removal of these individuals from the food chain without leading to steady decrease in overall numbers and that the increased revenue goes to the protection and conservation of the resource rather than into the pockets of greedy individuals, then to some extent one can justify the so called removal or “hunting” of a certain number of individuals under a strictly controlled quota system.
The manner in which so called “hunting” is carried out is another matter. In Zambia lions and leopards and other predators are “hunted” for trophies in the following way: A licence is obtained to shoot a hippo for bait. Two to three weeks before the hunt a part of the slaughtered hippo is dragged in an area where lion tracks have been seen and is then hung in a tree to attract the lions to the bait.
A blind or hide is erected and when the lion and other predators are feeding off the bait, they are often photographed with “stealth” cameras. If a trophy sized predator is seen there the “hunter is brought to the hide and waits for the lions to start feeding then he can “safely” shoot his trophy lion or leopard and then stand proudly with his high powered rifle and his foot on the lion as a brave and intrepid “hunter”.
Two years ago the minister of Tourism and Environment in Zambia and Justina Wake took the brave step to ban all cat hunting in Zambia. This created a major backlash in the hunting circles. Now due to pressure from who knows where, cat hunting has been reopened in Zambia- In my opinion this is a step backwards.
If the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) really wants to go ahead with this for the sake of income then they should first of all be absolutely sure that there are sufficient lion numbers to sustainably take off a conservative quota. They should then make the licence fee worthwhile to them for rich fat cats’ that want to shoot lion and leopard that are both valuable resources then let them pay accordingly. Furthermore, as lion are iconic species and are often the main reason many tourists come to Africa.
If the baits are set to attract lion to a shooting hide then these baits should not be dragged closer than 5 km from a park boundary and hides should not be placed closer then 5 km from national park boundaries as lions will then be attracted out of the parks. This happened some years back in the famous Busanga Plains in the northern part of the Kafue National Park where a large male lion, an icon of the area photographed by many tourists for many years, was attracted out of the park into the adjoining Kasonso/Busanga Game Management Area and was shot by a hunter to the disgust of all the tourist operators in the area .
If you have an interest and care for the African lion then appeal for the repeal or amendment of the Statutory Instrument in Zambia allowing cat hunting and setting the licence fee to at least $8000.00 per lion and $6000.00 per leopard as ZAWA only receives only half this amount, the balance going to the local community for community programs. As well the restricting of dragging baits closer than 5km from park boundaries.
Like the man going bald when he has a good head of hair and loses one or two hairs per day it is not an issue. But the day the top of his head is visible, by then he starts to worry it is too late and he can’t stop the process. So let us not allow lion to take the same road as rhino that is now heading down the slippery road to extinction.