Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post – 2015-07-30 12:06:33
Rich American Tourists Kill Hundreds of Lions each Year, and It’s All Legal
Christopher Ingraham / The Washington Post
(July 29, 2015) — The Internet is in an uproar this week over the recent killing of a well-known lion in Zimbabwe. Walter J. Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, allegedly baited Cecile the lion out of a national park by dragging a dead animal behind a car at night. Palmer shot it with a crossbow. The wounded lion escaped and wasn’t found by Palmer and his fellow hunters until 40 hours later, when they killed it with a rifle.
This would all be perfectly legal had the lion not been a resident of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, a protected area. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that trophy-hunting tourists legally kill some 600 lions each year. Jane Smart, the global director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, said in an interview that the 600 figure is several years old and the actual number is probably a little bit higher than that.
Given that there are only about 30,000 lions left in Africa, this represents an annual loss of roughly 2 percent of the total lion population to legal hunting, and a considerably larger share of the population of healthy adult male lions, which hunters typically prize.
American tourists — wealthy ones, given the high costs involved — account for the majority of lions killed for sport in Africa. A 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that between 1999 and 2008, Americans brought home lion “trophies” — heads, pelts and whatnot — representing 64 percent of all African lions killed for sport during that period.
And that number is rising: “Of these trophies, the number imported into the US in 2008 was larger than any other year in the decade studied and more than twice the number in 1999,” the report found.
The dwindling lion population cannot sustain hunting losses like this indefinitely, the IUCN found in its report. Last year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list African lions as “endangered,” which would have banned the importation of recreational lion trophies to the United States. Instead they listed lions as “threatened,” which allows the domestic trade in lion trophies to continue.
Safari Club International, the hunting group Palmer belongs to, hailed the ruling as a victory for hunters. The club maintains an online record book where hunters can track their kills of lions and other big game animals and compare their rankings with other hunters.
“You can submit your score and method of kill for any species, and it will interactively show you where you would rank in the book if your entry was submitted today,” the Web site says. An image of an example ranking page shows scores and rankings for kills of African lions.