Does hunting pay its way?

Even in the current age where many species such as elephants and lions are facing steep declines in population and range, there are still many countries where it is legal to go and hunt them and other species. Unlike many conservationists I am not inherently against hunting, however the way it is done in many places baffles me. I realise with many people it is essentially “the bragging rights” that they are looking for. Shoot an animal and mount its head on your wall at home. One hundred years ago, when there were more animals left I could understand this idea, but nowadays, when we are likely to have to explain to our grandchildren if not children why these animals no longer live in the wild I don’t want one stuck to my wall!

Furthermore, I struggle to understand with many of these hunts in what way it is a brave endeavour. The hunts that confuse me the most are the canned hunts in South Africa. The hunter will pay according to one website $9,900 to shoot a lioness, up to £45,000 to shoot a black maned lion. In a canned hunt the animal is released into a relatively small enclosure and only given a few weeks to acclimatise. The shooting will often be done from the safety of a vehicle; even when the hunt is done on foot, the guide for the hunt will have his rifle ready. It is not a question of kill or be killed, there is generally no danger to the hunter.

The most infamous hunter of recent years was Walter Palmer who killed Cecil the lion in 2015. This occurred in Zimbabwe and is typical of many hunting outfits in southern Africa. Cecil lived primarily in Hwange National Park, and as is common the hunting outfit owned some land on the edge of the park. Food was put out to lure the lion out of the park and it was then shot. What was worse was that Cecil was actually being studied by Oxford University among others and this research was severely damaged. Also Cecil was wearing a collar for gps readings so it would have been obvious that this lion was important for conservation and research.

With lion hunting a further problem lies in what happens after the dominant lion is killed. When a new lion takes over a pride, it is not evolutionarily to his advantage to bring up cubs from another male, so he will kill them all, so as to bring their mothers back into season. This behaviour is not liked and can lead to further deaths and fights. As such that single lion that has been legally hunted, has lead to the deaths of perhaps a further 10 cubs and likely the splintering of the pride that they live in.0

The Selous nature reserve in Tanzania, is mostly for hunting rather than photographic safari. Roughly 140 lions were killed last year. This is not a sensible number as, given 3 different ways to calculate the number of lions, the quota should be 46, 70 or 88, so half of what is currently taken. However it is far better than the situation in southern Africa. Tanzania has set aside a huge amount of its land for conservation, but photographic safari is only possible if enough people come to visit. Two more hunting blocks in the Selous have been set aside for photographic safari in recent years which would suggest that currently it is being shown that this is a better use of the land. Much of the Selous is infected with the tsetse fly which is why few people go there.

See this article from African Indaba for more information.

The other species often hunted within the Selous is the elephant, however as the population has crashed in the last 10 years this is in a far more precarious situation than the lion.

As a photographic destination the Selous is the wildest place I have been. Few people enter each year and it is expensive, however with more people going, there would likely be more land set aside and so less for the hunts.

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