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 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. Dr. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list African lions as "endangered," which would have banned the importation of recreational lion trophies to the U.S. Instead they listed lions as "threatened," which allows the domestic trade in lion trophies to continue.
The most controversial animal killings
The most controversial animal killings
1/6 Cincinnati Zoo worker shots and kills Harambe, the 17-year-old gorilla
Harambe, a 17-year-old gorilla was shot and killed by a Cincinnati Zoo worker after a three-year-old boy climbed into a gorilla enclosure and was grabbed and dragged by Harambe. The incident was recorded on video and received broad international coverage and commentary, including controversy over the choice to kill Harambe. A number of primatologists and conservationists wrote later that the zoo had no other choice under the circumstances, and that it highlighted the danger of zoo animals in close proximity to humans and the need for better standards of care
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
2/6 Walt Palmer (left), from Minnesota, who killed Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion (pictured here with another lion shot in Africa)
Walter James Palmer has been named by Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force as the shooter of Cecil, a 13-year-old prized lion. He is now wanted by Zimbabwe officials on poaching charges. The lion was protected and the subject of a decade long study by the Wildlife Unit of Oxford University in the UK. He was outfitted with a GPS collar and was killed in Hwange National Park. The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority and the Safari Operators Association said that two men were charged with poaching in connection to Mr Palmer
3/6 Kendall Jones hunting images
Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech university student, has provoked worldwide fury after posting pictures of herself smiling next to animals she hunted, including a lion, rhinoceros, antelope, leopard, elephant, zebra and hippopotamus
4/6 Rebecca Francis hunting images
Rebecca Francis, a huntress who has killed dozens of wild animals has been sent death wishes by furious social media users after a picture showing her lying down next to a dead giraffe was circulated. Rebecca Francis has a website and Facebook page dedicated to the animals she has killed in hunts across Africa and America. Francis, a prolific hunter who has also co-hosted the television show Eye of the Hunter, regularly posts pictures of herself posing next to dead bears, giraffes, buffaloes and zebras, among other animals. She uses a bow and arrow to kill her prey
5/6 The slaughter of Marius, an 18-month-old healthy giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo
Copenhagen Zoo made the controversial decision to euthanise a healthy giraffe named Marius, which was later dissected and fed to lions as visitors watched. The slaughter sparked a furious backlash from social media users and zoo staff have received death threats by phone and email. Soon after the incident, Copenhagen Zoo faced an international outcry once again after four healthy lions were put down
6/6 Swiss Dählhölzli zoo kills healthy brown bear cub
A Switzerland zoo faced heavy criticism from animal rights groups, after keepers put down a healthy brown bear cub to spare it from being bullied by its dominant male father. The 360 kg male bear Misha had already killed one of his 11-week old cubs in public and was bullying the second, staff at the zoo said, because he was jealous of the attention the cubs were receiving from their mother, Masha. Both adult brown bears had been donated to Bern’s Dählhölzli zoo in 2009. Campaigners condemned staff there for not separating the cubs, who are being referred to as Baby Bear Two and Baby Bear Three, and their mother from Misha after their birth in January
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.
Safari International says there are records of over 2,000 lions killed in its online record book. A November 2014 blog post highlights the top 10 African lions killed, with photos of hunters posed next to their prizes. "The African lion is one of the most challenging and dangerous hunts," the copy reads. "Virtually anyone who imagines an African Safari envisions the big maned lion charging the implacable hunter shouldering his European double rifle.
In reality, lion hunting doesn't appear to require much in the way of skill. As the photos above show, many hunter-tourists are guided by teams of locals and professionals. Adult lions are not particularly afraid of humans, making it relatively easy to get close to one. They spend the majority of their day sleeping.
Hunting groups like Safari Club International maintain that hunting lions helps conserve them. They promote the positive effects of hunting in African communities. They argue that "hunting plays a role in raising the value of the African lion and discourages poaching."
In a phone interview, IUCN's Jane Smart said that well-regulated trophy hunting can be a net benefit for lion populations. "What is clear is that overall the trophy hunting must be carefully regulated, otherwise it casts the whole trophy hunting industry into ill-repute," she said. "There is a payback for communities if we can do it in a regulated way. However unpleasant people find this, this can be a good conservation technique." She stressed that habitat destruction and illegal poaching were even bigger threats to the lion population.
In a statement to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Palmer expressed regret. "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt... I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion,” he said.
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