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Killing Lions To Save Lions

March 20, 2013

That’s the objectionable paradox that exists in Tanzania, where human pressures are reducing lion numbers but American big game hunters are helping fund protection and conservation.

This is an issue because US Fish & Wildlife is considering classifying African lions as endangered, which means that said big game hunters would no longer be able to bring their dead lion trophies home, and display them in their 15,000 square foot McMansions to impress their guests. Which means that they would no longer pay large fees to hunt lions, and support Tanzanian conservation efforts.

That has prompted the Director Of Wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism to take to the pages of the New York Times to ask Fish & Wildlife not to list the lion as endangered, and remove the incentive American blowhards have to some spend lots of their American dollars on the thrill of blowing a lion away with a high-powered rifle.

Here’s the argument:

Of all the species found here, lions are particularly important because they draw visitors from throughout the world — visitors who support our tourism industry and economy. Many of these visitors only take pictures. But others pay thousands of dollars to pursue lions with rifles and take home trophies from what is often a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Those hunters spend 10 to 25 times more than regular tourists and travel to (and spend money in) remote areas rarely visited by photographic tourists.

In Tanzania, lions are hunted under a 21-day safari package. Hunters pay $9,800 in government fees for the opportunity. An average of about 200 lions are shot a year, generating about $1,960,000 in revenue. Money is also spent on camp fees, wages, local goods and transportation. And hunters almost always come to hunt more than one species, though the lion is often the most coveted trophy sought. All told, trophy hunting generated roughly $75 million for Tanzania’s economy from 2008 to 2011.

The money helps support 26 game reserves and a growing number of wildlife management areas owned and operated by local communities as well as the building of roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure — all of which are important as Tanzania continues to develop as a peaceful and thriving democracy.

Putting aside the notion that putting an end to lion hunting will somehow endanger Tanzanian growth and democracy, there is a certain practical logic to this argument. Kill a few lions to save the rest. But just because it is practical does not mean that it is moral or acceptable.

It would be nice if Tanzania would take the trouble to search for alternative solutions, instead of relying on the easy money of people who think that shooting lion will impress their poker buddies. And I suspect that some of that $75 million from trophy hunting finds its way into a few pockets here and there.

Lion populations are shrinking

But this paradox of killing lions to save them is also a reminder that anyone who cares about lions, or any other species, and prefers a more humane formula for conservation, must be willing to support aid to poorer countries that cannot afford conservation on their own. Too often, the developed world reacts with outrage to animal abuse, slaughter, or mismanagement in the developing world, and reacts with equal outrage to the idea that more assistance should flow from the wealthy countries to the poorer countries to help them meet conservation challenges.

Yes, assistance must be safeguarded against corruption and misuse. But lions in Tanzania, along with so many other iconic and important regional species, are viewed as a global resource, and a matter of global concern, by the rest of the world. So the rest of the world needs to be willing to put some skin in the game and contribute what’s needed to manage and conserve those species on a global basis. Otherwise, the Texans with trophy rooms will take care of it for the rest of us.

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