Lions in South Africa Pressured by TB Outbreak, Hunters

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This kind of "canned" hunting is controversial, and, in Whitman's view, "distasteful." She adds that it may have at least one redeeming feature in that it takes the pressure off wild populations in other areas. "But I know of no studies that have that documented," she warned.

Whitman said that hunters are divided on the subject of the ethics of canned hunting. "One might argue that 'hunters' are opposed to it," she said, "but 'shooters' are not."

Luring Free-Ranging Lions

Keet sees another danger: hunters who lure lions with bait or sound, especially large, free-ranging males from protected areas. Hunters are only interested in big, preferably black-maned lions, Keet said, and killing them can be disastrous. "It causes a chain reaction where new males then move in and kill the offspring of the hunted males."

Trophy hunters claim about 150 South African lions each year, but the South African government views this trade as sustainable. An April 2004 proposal by the Kenya Wildlife Service for the management of Africa's lion population asserted that current levels of hunting are unsustainable.

In response, Pieter Botha of South Africa's Environmental Affairs and Tourism Department, wrote that this might apply to some countries, but not to South Africa.

South Africa exports more lions and lion body parts than any country except Tanzania. South Africa contributes about 30 percent of lions hunted in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Future of South African Lions

Although there are some small populations of lions outside of the Kruger ecosystem, they are not self-sustaining, and, according to Keet, they have to be managed with occasional additions and removals.

Keet worries, though, about the continuing health of the free-ranging population. "Bovine tuberculosis is not a disease that will disappear from the Kruger ecosystem unless radically combated," he said. "And by now it is probably too late."

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