For anyone who thought that trophy hunting safaris were as
passe as old Tarzan movies, this week’s news that a U.S. dentist had paid
$50,000 to hunt and kill what turned out to be a prized Zimbabwean lion named
Cecil served as a reminder that big-game hunting remains a popular activity
among some affluent visitors to sub-Saharan Africa.
Most people who take safaris today pay thousands, even tens
of thousands of dollars for a chance to see Africa’s renowned wildlife thriving
in their natural habitats.
But the killing of a lion that had been tracked by
researchers since 2008 and was providing crucial information for conservation
efforts has drawn attention to the fact that the trophy safari never went away.
“It has been going on for a long, long time, and only occasionally
does the activity come under scrutiny,” said Anne Bellamy, president of Great
Safaris, an operator that is not involved in trophy hunting. “Driving around
the countryside in southern Africa, you don’t see signs saying, ‘Hunting
concession, next right.’ Yet, we all know these hunting farms abound.”
For traditional safari outfits and Africa specialists, the
fact that big-game hunting is still going on doesn’t appeal to the animal
lovers they bring to the continent.
Darrell Wade, CEO of Intrepid Travel, said, “Apart from
being a bit sick, in my view, it also doesn’t do great things for the image of
Africa that it is even allowed.”
Indeed, big game hunting in Africa is illegal in some
countries, such as Kenya and Botswana, but not in others. According to LionAid,
a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds to support lion research, Cecil was shot
outside a national park in a private hunting concession, which is legal. But
the group also said the kill will likely be ruled illegal because Cecil was
shot in an area that had not been assigned a lion quota.
“As for the argument that live animals are worth more to the economy in Africa than dead ones, it is simply not true.” — Mick Jameson, Wild Africa Hunting Safaris
Cecil’s killing comes at a time when there appears to be a
groundswell of attention being placed on the various threats facing animal
populations, including environmental hazards, poaching and hunting. Discussions
abound about how and whether to tackle the challenges. Tourism often plays an
important part in the conversation because of the significant role it plays in
the economic argument that animals can be worth more alive than they are
“Trophy hunting has dropped off every year as tourism has
replaced that segment of income,” said Joan Embery, a wildlife conservation
advocate who will be hosting a Tanzania trip with International Expeditions
next year. “Some countries, such as Kenya, outlaw trophy hunting. Some still
rely on the income, which can be substantial.”
On the other hand, the proprietors of hunting safari
companies say that critics fail to acknowledge the important role revenue plays
in helping to support African economies.
“As for the argument that live animals are worth more to the
economy in Africa than dead ones, it is simply not true,” said Mick Jameson of
Wild Africa Hunting Safaris. “Have you ever heard of someone paying $60,000 to
take a picture of an elephant, or $20,000 to take a picture of a lion? I took
over 650 pictures on my hunt last September. I took home eight trophies and
left $20,000 in the country.”
Other proponents of trophy safaris argue that hunting helps
control certain animal populations and that indigenous communities have
traditionally hunted big game for food and other resources.
But this week’s outpouring of grief for Cecil and the public
shaming of the lion’s killers on social media suggested that public opinion
increasingly favors further controls and a tightening of restrictions on
Those in support of clamping down on trophy safaris said
they hoped that while Cecil’s death was tragic, it has also placed a spotlight
on the issue, which could become a catalyst for change.
“We are now encouraging our clients and colleagues to sign
the online petition that will fast-track the listing of the African lion under
the Endangered Species Act,” said Great Safaris’ Bellamy.