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A safari vehicle comes close to a roaring young male lion in Botswana.

A safari vehicle comes close to a roaring young male lion at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana.

Photograph by Ralph Lee Hopkins, National Geographic Stock

Jeff Flocken

for National Geographic

Published July 31, 2013

Editor's note: Jeff Flocken is North American director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The United States government is considering whether to add lions to the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act. Such protection would ban the importation of dead trophy lions into the U.S.

The proposed move, supported by a coalition of wildlife groups that includes my own, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, raises an obvious question: Why on Earth are we still allowing this animal to be killed for "fun" when it's in danger of disappearing from the wild in our lifetimes?

The most recent study, led by a scientist from Duke University, shows that as few as 32,000 lions are left in the wild. Many experts say there could be far fewer. (See an interactive experience on the Serengeti lion.)

While habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict (often in the form of retaliatory killings after lions kill livestock and sometimes even humans) are the primary causes of the lions' disappearance from Africa's forests and savannahs, trophy hunting adds to the problem. Approximately 600 lions are killed every year on trophy hunts, including lions in populations that are already declining from other threats. These hunts are unsustainable and put more pressure on the species.

Unfortunately, Americans are primarily to blame. Approximately 60 percent of all lions killed for sport in Africa are shipped to the U.S. as trophies.

There are several reasons why trophy hunting is so bad for lions, beyond the obvious one that it kills healthy members of an imperiled species. The adult male lion is the most sought-after trophy by wealthy foreign hunters. And when an adult male lion is killed, the destabilization of that lion's pride can lead to more lion deaths as outside males compete to take over the pride.

Once a new male is in the dominant position, he will often kill the cubs sired by the pride's previous leader, resulting in the loss of an entire lion generation within the pride.

Trophy hunting is also counter-evolutionary, as it's based on selectively taking the large, robust, and healthy males from a population for a hunter's trophy room. These are the same crucial individuals that in a natural system would live long, full lives, protecting their mates and cubs and contributing their genes to future generations.

Despite the wild claims that trophy hunting brings millions of dollars in revenue to local people in otherwise poor communities, there is no proof of this. Even pro-hunting organizations like the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation have reported that only 3 percent of revenue from trophy hunting ever makes it to the communities affected by hunting. The rest goes to national governments or foreign-based outfitters.

The money that does come into Africa from hunting pales in comparison to the billions and billions generated from tourists who come just to watch wildlife. If lions and other animals continue to disappear from Africa, this vital source of income—nonconsumptive tourism—will end, adversely impacting people all over Africa.

Attempts to introduce sustainable methods for sport hunting of lions have been discussed for decades. But the lion population continues to decline, and reform of the hunting industry appears to be far off. Even a new, much-hyped method of targeting aging lions, so that the animals are killed after contributing to the genetic pool, are difficult to pull off and rely on age verification after the lion has already been killed.

African lions are the only big cat not currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Listing African lions as an endangered species and banning trophy imports to the U.S. would send an important message: The African lion is disappearing, and the global community needs to act to stop the trend before it is too late or too costly to reverse.

It's a message that won't be heard as long as it is common and legal to kill lions for sport. Why should anyone spend money to protect an animal that a wealthy American can then pay to go kill?

95 comments
Jason Smith
Jason Smith

Liberals blow my mind. They are so concerned with stopping the legal hunting of animals. But they don't have a problem with legalized murder of unborn children!  Hey if you really want to do a good deed and make a difference in the world, why don't you write the liberal president and congress you elected and tell them to stop abortion or at least stop making us pay for it with our tax dollars. Focus on what is important!

Ray McMullen
Ray McMullen

You are misguided in that you blame legal hunting for the effects of poaching. Legal controlled hunting is not only sustainable but funds efforts to combat poaching. If there was no legal hunting those efforts would surely be rendered utterly ineffective if they existed at all. The species would definitely disappear. I don't trust your claims about how any species is in trouble. Activists are known to lobby for species to put on an endangered list out of ideological fervor not scientific evidence. This is not to say there are no endangered species, simply that I don't trust your claims.

Cynthia O'Connor
Cynthia O'Connor

Interesting and very timely for this Saturday, March 15th March against canned lion hunting in Chicago, and virtual march allover the world!

Bofeshia Snipes
Bofeshia Snipes

@Lourens Botha

Hunting protects the species? Then why have so many species been hunted to EXTINCTION? The lies you are all too willing to believe are bought and paid for by the people who profit from this industry. Killing an animal for anything other than that of self-defense or sustenance is NEVER okay. The number of lions in Africa is declining, not growing, and each animal blasted away is another animal gone. Also, lions form family-like structures called prides, do you really believe they feel nothing when a member of their family is shot and killed? Have you ever volunteered and worked closely with these animals? I have. And let me tell you, they do not deserve to be snuffed for pleasure, just so some imbecile can mount their head on the wall and brag about their "grand adventure" (which is usually guided and done at a long, cowardly distance with a high-powered rifle) What we need is people to learn about these magnificent beasts and protect them from a place of respect and admiration. "Protecting" a species by hunting it is like bombing for peace.

Christa De Beer
Christa De Beer

A report released last year by the University of Pretoria and Cape Town, Panthera, the big cat organisation, and Sweet Briar College in the US found that the captive-bred lion hunting industry has grown significantly, "to the point where almost twice the number of lion trophies are exported from South Africa as from all other African countries combined"  It notes how in 2009 and 2010, 833 and 682 lion trophies were exported from South Africa, respectively more than double the combined export from other African countries.

ALARMINGLY, IT FOUND AN ASSOCIATED INCREASE IN THE PREVALENCE OF THE EXPORT OF LION BONES FROM SOUTH AFRICA:  AT LEAST 645 BONES/SETS OF BONES WERE EXPORTED IN 2010, 75 PERCENT TO FEED 

VIETNAM AND CHINA'S INSATIABLE APPETITE FOR LION BONES FOR TIGER WINE AND TIGER CAKE......

This fact is even more scary......

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

This is a noble cause but unfortunately a one sided one and is based on emotionality and personal prejudice. The opinion I am raising here will probably be scoffed at and ignored as it supplies some insight into the other side of the matter. Just to stop hunting of lions per se is not the answer. An excellent example can be found in elephants where 15-20 years ago a similar international offensive led to the total protection of elephants across Africa. Now the very real outcome of that campaign is visible in Africa where the sheer numbers of elephants are destroying local habitats to the detriment of every single species in that area including the elephants themselves. That campaign was done through very similar means as this one and all the other ones around Melissa Bachman:  It is simple - use a few emotionally laden facts  and make it sound like it has been researched and voila you have millions of signatures. A few years later every one of those people decides to ignore the outcome of what they caused. Currently the revenue out of the US has led to a booming wildlife farming industry in Africa whereby hundreds of square kilometres are now being economically and sustainably used  for game rather than cattle and agriculture. Several species has been brought back from extinction through the " horrible" act of hunting e.g. the Sable Antelope, the Black Wildebeest to name but two. Lion play a key role in the generated income and while I know it is an unpopular idea, its role as a huge money spinner in conservation cannot be ignored. To do so could lead to the demise of many many species including lions. Private individuals make a living out of caring for these animals specifically due to its economic value. Taking away the largest income stream for them will put severe pressure on the industry in SA and will probably eventually cause it to collapse. So before you lobby too much to stop the " hated"  trophy industry - really try to understand how the whole  industry operates. Properly researched statistics from Africa have shown that wherever controlled hunting of lion has been allowed their numbers are increasing - simply because people can make money from them. Denying this connection could very well lead to their extinction. I am not a hunter, and I dearly love Africa and its wonderful variety of species but I am not blinded to the fact of how delicate the balance is between protection and hunting, So please I beg of you guys to really think clearly and look at the broad picture here per area in Africa before you could very easily cause the demise of specifically that which you are trying to protect. Please???  Please read http://www.science20.com/anthrophysis/can_you_save_threatened_species_hunting_it-86729   and  also  http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-11-19-in-defence-of-a-lion-killer/#.UoyezhpkN8G   (in the second article click through on all the links to see where the info is coming from)  and some of the actual scientific research specifically on lion hunting in Africa:   http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0029332


Marleny Rafferty
Marleny Rafferty

The U.S. should ban the import of trophy animals.  This might be the only way to drastically reduce the slaughter of these majestic creatures.  As it turns out Americans are the majority of hunters that travel to Africa to hunt.

Lorraine Phillips
Lorraine Phillips

Ban! 

Murder of any living being, animal or man, should not be encouraged and be allowed to freely gloat over!!

Richmond Acosta
Richmond Acosta

I once saw a website about trophy hunting of an endangered buffalo here in the Philippines which can be found in just one tiny island and number to only about less than 600. The website is owned by an american safari company.

Margrit Harris
Margrit Harris

Totally for a ban. Lions are being captive bred like sheep in South Africa I've been told solely for the purpose of offering them up for canned (trophy) hunts. Horrible practice.

Chris Mercer, Campaign Against Canned Hunting was recently interviewed in a special report http://youtu.be/Hav-1GuVcWQ where wildlife conservationists discuss the cruelty and cowardice associated with trophy hunting.

Valerie Lloyd
Valerie Lloyd

America you should be ashamed. Get that ban in place!

Gary Belanger
Gary Belanger

A no brainer, hunters pick out the best of the species which leaves the lesser to reproduce so it turns into a double jeopardy for the future generations of lions. But this is a sick and immoral practice to begin with. Come on people , grow a sense of compassion, or is that an outdated part of humanity as well! NOT !

LM Wood
LM Wood

Trophy hunting is a vile & disgusting practice. Killing for fun.Killing animals that you don't eat ,but I've even heard some restaurants are serving lionburgers ! WHY?? The men who support this atrocity need to have a reality check as to what constitutes true masculinity. They must have a massive case of insecurity & inferiority to find delight in killing helpless creatures for no reason. They are all a waste of skin & space & do not deserve to be called human.

Roiikka-Ta P Globetrotter
Roiikka-Ta P Globetrotter

the more people know about it, the more people love them, the less it happens until it is none .

stacey hoang
stacey hoang

Sport killing is sick and disgusting. There are "farms" that raise lions for sport hunting. There is nothing courageous about taking a life for fun, and if you see differently, you are a worthless excuse for a human being. 

Bill Doyle
Bill Doyle

There is no reason to kill an animal unless you are hunting for food. Killing just to put the head on your wall and wasting its life is just something I couldn't stomach.

Eduardo Santilli
Eduardo Santilli

And high lineage people like the king of Spain use to hunt wild animals (lions included) just to have some fun.. .  It´s a shame!! And it´s outrageous!!

Justin L.
Justin L.

The founder of Godaddy is a major offender.  I remember seeing a photo of him posing with an elephant he had shot.  There is nothing heroic, honorable, or prideful about shooting an endangered or otherwise threatened species.  I'll never understand the mentality of someone who says to themselves, "I've always wanted to kill/shoot/hunt a _____."  What a sad life you must live to find joy in the death of lions and other magnificent creatures by your own hand.

Caroline LeBreton
Caroline LeBreton

It is very sad, if you have that much money why not instead only go on more safari trips and enjoy the life of the wilderness instead of a death you have brought upon them.

karen rock
karen rock

What I do not understand is how these people can pose with pride next to the corpses of these endangered animals clutching the rifle that they have used to shoot them (from a safe distance and requiring no courage whatsoever) If they were holding a spear, that would at least show some personal mettle but a gun? Contemptuous cowards.Throw in animals lured to a waterhole or salt lick (so not even any tracking ability needed) or worse trapped and a sitting target and I wonder what these people imagine they are proving about themselves.*would have been concentration camp guards in a previous life*

Omkar K.
Omkar K.

An eye-opener and extremely informative article, Jeff !!!

T Laudrum
T Laudrum

I suppose my basic question, why do we need to need to 'trophy' hunt anything?? 

If individuals feel that strongly about conservation and supporting the local communities, why not help by investing their dollars into education, planting crops etc? 

I feel this justification for hunting to help pour money back in to conservation, is really just an excuse to go and kill something wild and even worse something endangered.

Jeffrey Flocken
Jeffrey Flocken

Thank you every one for your comments and the healthy discussion regarding trophy hunting and lion conservation.  As mentioned in the article, while hunting is not the primary cause of lion decline, trophy hunting is a problem that is only adding to the decline.  Reducing all possible pressures on the species is necessary if we are going to make a difference and allow for recovery.  And hunting for sport is a stress that Americans can easily alleviate.  If you'd like to take action to support the Petition to list African lions as Endangered under the US Endangered Species Act, please visit www.helpafricanlions.org.  Sincerely, Jeff Flocken

Joe Simonetta
Joe Simonetta

My response to those who write that killing for fun is irrelevant for species management is that comment itself is irrelevant. Killing for fun is always relevant, totally appalling, and completely unacceptable. Killing these animals for “trophies” disgusts me.

Dorothy Snowden
Dorothy Snowden

Last month the American Eastern Mountain lion went EXTINCT, they are still shooting lions HERE in the US..how about we clean up our OWN act as well?  But rich folk pay very well to kill lions and rich folk stuff their pockets with $$ don't they?

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@Lorraine Phillips Please read my comment elsewhere to gain some further insight in how conservation in Africa/South Africa really works.

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@Margrit Harris  You have been told wrong. Like in any industry there will be people raping the situation. Please gain some insight into the actual situation in Africa and South Africa before lending your voice to this.  Please look for my comment elsewhere in this thread and read the attached articles.

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@stacey hoang Please see my comment elsewhere in this thread and try to see the other side of the distorted picture you are being served with. Trophy hunting plays a huge role towards PROTECTING lion - so by supporting the stopping of trophy hunting YOU could be partly responsible for them ultimately going extinct. 

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@Justin L. Please see my comment elsewhere in this thread where I am attempting to show the other side of the distorted picture you are being served with. Trophy hunting helps TOWARDS protecting lion much more than working against it.

Wayne Werne
Wayne Werne

@T Laudrum   No one needs to trophy hunt.  No one needs to eat meat.  No one needs to have more than 2 children per family.  But a lot of people do those things.  I personally don't like basketball - should I lobby Congress to outlaw the NBA?  No - people would say if you don't like it, don't watch it, and don't participate in it.  If you don't like hunting, don't partake in it.  Different people have different proclivities.

Investing money to help plant crops in Africa would undoubtedly hasten the demise of the lion, as habitat loss is probably the number one cause of decline of wildlife numbers.  Farmers who raise cattle will poison whole prides of lions to avoid any problems with their livestock.

Do you know the history of Teddy Roosevelt?  He was a passionate hunter, outdoorsman, and conservationist.  He did more to protect natural areas and wildlife in this country than any president ever has or ever will.  To him wildlife had value and needed to be protected.  Prior to him, people who did NOT see value in wildlife did their best to permanently eliminate the wolves, bears, cougars, bison, and many other species.  

When people do not attribute value to something (wildlife), it becomes valueless to society, and society does not care if it is eliminated.  When you have large numbers of people who want to hunt an elk or deer, the elk and deer will be regulated, managed, and preserved from extinction.  If you were to outlaw all hunting, likely most of the wildlife would be eliminated outside of purely protected parks and preserves.  It seems to be human nature to only protect things they can gain personal value from by utilizing it.

Filipe Deandrade
Filipe Deandrade

You absolutely nailed it. To justify something by pointing at the positive affect (even at a minuscule level) it may have seems so arbitrary.

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@Joe Simonetta Please see my comment elsewhere in this thread where I attempt at presenting the other side of the distorted picture you have. Understand the fine balance between hunting and conservation and also how easily it is for biased uninformed opinion to break that balance and cause the very species that you are trying to protect to become extinct

Wayne Werne
Wayne Werne

@Dorothy Snowden The eastern mountain lion was DECLARED extinct recently, but has likely been extirpated from the US for most of a century.  The USFWS finally made the decision that yes - likely there are no more of them anymore.  And there is debate on whether there even was an eastern subspecies.  It is quite likely was the same species as the commonly recognized cougar which still resides in western states.

Michael Reid
Michael Reid

@Melissa Marks @Marleny Rafferty I personally find it more despicable that people would single out this woman and torch her all over the internet. Regardless of your thoughts on lion hunting, it is legal in South Africa. The social media shaming of this one woman (not the many male hunters who have killed lions) screams misogyny and misplaced anger. To respond to what may view as cruelty to animals with all the vitriol of hate and death threats cheapens one's viewpoint. One hunter is not to blame for the LEGAL hunting of lions on conservancies like this one where Bachman was hunting. People do not have to like it or agree with it, and that is perfectly acceptable. Discourse and disagreement are fine, but why attack one person? Is this not treating the symptom and not the cause? And is replying the way thousands of people (including celebrities) have with hate speech and sexist name calling the solution? People should come first. Otherwise this entire dialogue is one of chest-beating and name calling. If I wanted to be a part of that I could return to grade school. Lets have some perspective.

T Laudrum
T Laudrum

@Wayne Werne@T Laudrum 

I appreciate your response Wayne however the reasoning you have presented seem a little thin for justifying why it is reasonable to hunt an endangered animal for what is ultimately a humans own selfish pleasure.  The killing serves no one but the individual and their selfie they have on the mantle. 

Like I said previously, if the these individuals want to help conservation and wildlife I am sure they can in more meaningful and productive ways other than picking up a gun.

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@Roy Glass @Michael Reid Roy, please read my comment elsewhere. However it being seen as despicable, trophy hunting is playing a huge role in protection lions. Stopping that will cause them to become extinct faster than guns from America will do it on controlled hunts. Attitudes and ignorance like yours are far more dangerous to lion than Melissa Bachman and other hunters are. Secondly to compare the situation in SA on a well managed game farm with the plight of lion in original wild areas in Africa where their biggest danger is loss of habitat to humans, is simply gross ignorance.  The two situations are simply worlds apart and make sure you understand why I can make that statement before you feel justified to support this.

Roy Glass
Roy Glass

@Michael Reid So its ok for her to kill a lion because its legal? The problem is that lions will soon be on the endangered list. It does not matter that she was a woman. The fact that she is glorifying trophy hunting when it should be stopped is wrong. People should not wish hate and harm to her i agree. But i do believe some laws should be changed.

Lourens Botha
Lourens Botha

@T Laudrum @Wayne Werne The lions in Africa in different places are in various situations and cannot be compared with each other with blanket statements. Lion is a key trophy animal and regulated hunting of them makes it possible for them to be protected along with hundreds of other species who make use of the same habitat. Comparing true wild lions in Southern Africa who are dying out because of shrinking habitats more than anything else, with lions on game farms in South Africa is wrong. Two different worlds. Please see my comment elsewhere on this thread where I attempt to show the other side of the distorted picture you are being presented with.

Wayne Werne
Wayne Werne

@T Laudrum @Wayne Werne The question may be perhaps - what constitutes and endangered species?  I believe there are an estimated 1700 wolves in the Idaho-Montana region resulting from the reintroduction project back in the 90's.  Much less than the estimated 32,000 lion estimate I have heard.  Yet, Montana and Idaho have regulated hunting seasons on wolves.  Somewhere in the process of regulating wildlife, the USFWS has decreed that wolves are not endangered enough to preclude legal hunting in the lower 48.  Yet it is being proposed that they impose a ban on the importation of lion products.  There are probably no black and white answers when one delves into these issues.

The other part of this debate is - what about the large sums of money that trophy hunting injects into the places where hunting is allowed.  I don't know how much of that filters down to the locals, but certainly some of it does.  A lot of money for wildlife conservation - especially in this country - has been directly funneled from fees and taxes on sporting equipment and licenses.

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