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Cecil the Lion: One year on, taking stock of trophy hunting in Africa

One year ago, on 1 July 2015, Cecil the Lion was killed by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe.

The circumstances surrounding his death, re-exposed the excesses of trophy hunting, and led to public outcry around the world. Although the practice is not a novelty, more and more pressure has been put on the industry’s distorted ethical arguments, in a bid to stop lion trophy hunting for good.

On this first anniversary of the loved Zimbabwean lion’s death, the world remembers the unnecessary death of one of Zimbabwe’s most iconic predators.

In relation to Cecil’s death, international animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS has expressed their thanks to the lion and all other victims of unscrupulous trophy hunting.

Fiona Miles, Country Director at FOUR PAWS South Africa, explains, “The case of Cecil the Lion was one specific case that came to public attention and caused outrage. However, this tragedy should make us aware that Cecil was just one of many – he represents the innumerable lions killed every year by trophy hunters.”

For years, organisations like Blood Lions, NatGeo’s Big Cats Initiative,PantheraWildAidWildCRU and Four Paws have fighting against the particularly cruel practice of canned hunting in South Africa, and globally.

This brutal form of trophy hunting sees animals that are accustomed to humans given no chance to escape, as they are forced straight into the gun sights of high-paying hobby hunters. South African Government figures show that 6 000 – 10 000 lions are currently being bred on over 200 breeding stations, specifically for this type of hunting.

Frankly, many feel South Africa has done little to hinder this shameful practice.

Hunting documentation detailing an individual’s skill are not required, meaning that hunters – who are often inexperienced – frequently have to shoot an animal several times to finish it off. This leads to a slow and agonising death.

But a glimmer of hope has come from the public outrage that came from Cecil’s death, and the anti-canned hunting campaigns that followed the 1 July 2015 hunt. New restrictions on the import of trophies in several countries are making business increasingly difficult for the lion breeders.

“In certain areas, steps were already taken in the right direction, for example new import regulations, and a ban on transporting trophies on some airlines. Several hunting associations have also come out against canned hunting,” Miles says.

Here is an overview of the successful ground made to protect lions in Africa:

– Australia and France have placed bans on importing lion trophies

– The Netherlands has placed a ban on importing trophies from lions and 200 other endangered species

– The US (the country with the most hunter-tourists) has made significant changes to have stricter import requirements.
Since January 2016, hunters wishing to import lion trophies must prove that the killing was necessary to protect lions living in the wild – which is in general very difficult to do. South African sources show that lion hunts involving hunters from the United States have decreased by 70%.

– Great Britain is threatening to ban imports from 2017 if the African countries of origin do not maintain their lion numbers more effectively

– Over 40 international airlines have banned or restricted the carrying of trophies

– The South African hunting association PHASA has taken a firm stand against the official lion breeders in the country, the South African Predator Association (SAPA) and has distanced itself from this cruel form of hunting.

– Europe’s largest hunting fair, Germany’s “Jagd & Hund”, and the Austrian “Hohe Jagd & Fischerei” fair have undertaken to oppose canned hunting products and packages

– Several African states have committed to calling for Africa’s lions to be promoted to the highest level of protection (CITES Appendix 1) at the upcoming international World Wildlife Conference, to be held in Johannesburg in September 2016. It is still uncertain whether the application will achieve the necessary majority.

Despite the positives, “we certainly have a long way to go,” Miles says.

According to a new combined Panthera – WildAid – WildCRU report, over the past two decades, the African lion population has declined by an estimated 43%, with only 20 000 lions remaining across the entire continent – and hunting isn’t the only killer.

Habitat loss, bushmeat poaching and conflict with livestock owners are the primary killers of Africa’s lions today. Compared to trophy hunting, these threats combined are estimated to kill 5-10 times as many lions each year.

Lions occupy just 8% of their historical range today. Extensive habitat loss is likely to continue as Africa’s human population grows from 1.2 billion currently to 2.47 billion in 2050, as estimated by the United Nations.

“Human population growth and agricultural expansion restrict the lion’s range and bushmeat trade is stealing their prey, leading to increasing livestock loss and human conflict,” WildAid CEO Peter Knights says.

“But with more resources for protection, there is still space and time to buck the trend and save Africa’s iconic lion. As the Cecil tragedy showed, hunting is hard to regulate and it’s difficult to ensure it’s truly sustainable, but the challenge for hunting opponents is to find alternative revenue for lion conservation in cash strapped-areas that may not benefit from tourism.”

Panthera president Dr Luke Hunter agrees, saying, “One year ago, with the loss of Cecil, the world responded unequivocally that it stands with Africa in saving the lion. Sadly, we have since lost hundreds and possibly thousands of lions.

“The species is now approaching the point of no return in many countries. Saving this extraordinary animal requires the international community to convert their outrage over Cecil into action and dollars supporting African governments, people and initiatives fighting to save the lion.”

In a new partnership, Panthera and WildAid launched a campaign on the anniversary of Cecil the Lion’s death, calling upon the global community to “Stand with Africa to Let Lions Live.”

The report calls for a greater global commitment to lions, with a focus on assisting African governments’ conservation efforts and empowering local communities to co-exist with lions and prevent loss of their prey species.

FOUR PAWS is also running a petition aimed at convincing the South African Government to place a blanket ban on canned hunting. You can sign the FOUR PAWS petition here.

If you’d like to support lion conservation, you can also:

– Take part in Traveller24’s #ShockWildlifeTruths Twitter Chat on Friday, 1 July, at 12:00, discussing the pros and cons of using wildlife apps in South Africa’s national parks. You can get more information here: ShockWildlifeTruths: Pros and cons of wildlife apps – join Traveller24’s twitter chat on 1 July

– Support Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary. This haven was opened by Savannah Heuser in 2012 and it has no breeding policy, nor is it open to the public.

– Watch Blood Lions. Canned hunting and exploitation of captive lions has gained unparalleled support and awareness through the Blood Lions documentary – bringing to the world’s attention to the horrors of predator breeding and activities using lions and other species.

As a result, Blood Lions says tourism industry leaders have collaborated to initiate a worldwide ‘Born to Live Wild‘ pledge against the predator breeding and canned hunting industry –  presenting a united front that includes the most significant tourism organisations and travel companies around the world.

Travel and Tourism operators who want to join the “Born to Live Wild” pledge can click here. Public citizens can join the movement by watching Blood Lions, and pledging your support to their work.