The Lions Share

By Karen Seginak

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THE LION'S SHARE

The lion's share is an idiom meaning the largest part (or share) of something. African lions are iconic animals that often receive the lion's share of attention in anti-hunting misinformation campaigns and misguided legislative proposals, wherein activists purport that trophy hunting is the major threat to free-ranging, truly wild lions.  

But who DOES kill the lion's share of African lions? The rural dwellers who must live with them, lose livestock and sometimes family members to them, and, who, consequently, quite understandably, view lions primarily as threats and liabilities.  

Lion researchers estimate that these illegal human-lion conflict killings occur at rates anywhere from 10 to 100 times higher in non-hunting areas bordering national parks than legal kills in trophy hunting concessions. In a recent study, in just one area of Tanzania, for example, 85 lions were killed in 12 villages over the course of only 19 months. Such conflict killings affect all ages and sexes, and not only contribute nothing to the species' conservation, but typically detract from it instead. Often poison is used, collaterally killing other predators and scavengers, including critically endangered vulture species.  

In contrast, in one year, on average, only about 30 post-mature male lions are killed by legal trophy hunters in all of Tanzania. Their highly selective deaths, regulated by scientifically set quotas, help to fund outfitter's conservation programs on government lands specifically designated for trophy hunting. Lands typically not suitable for photo tourism, but perfectly capable of providing critical habitat and prey populations that lions absolutely require, whilst also providing buffer zones around national parks in some areas. These hunting concessions encompass almost one quarter more land mass than national parks in Tanzania do.

Despite such sobering comparisons, however, some people who claim to love lions and to be concerned about the future of lions still insist that legal trophy hunting is the lion's share of threats to lions. It's not.

You may not like or understand the trophy hunting of lions. You don't have to. But, if you truly do wish to see lions continue to exist, then you must realize the necessity of maintaining their required habitats and prey populations. Trophy hunting lands provide the lion's share of these needs in Tanzania. If these hunting blocks are rendered economically unviable due to international bans on trophy imports or domestic bans on hunting, what will be the lion's share of uses they will be converted to? Human settlements with increased numbers of both people and livestock, less habitat, less prey and more human-lion conflict killings. Whomever campaigns for such changes will, unforgivably, shoulder the lion's share of responsibility for the inevitable demise of lions.

Lions and livestock have never mixed well. Lions quite possibly may have been extirpated from Tanzania and Kenya due to stockmen's desires to destroy them entirely, if it weren't for the insistence of early trophy hunters, particularly those of the fledgling East African Professional Hunters Association. As early as the early 1900's, these men began pushing for lion hunting regulations and the adoption of the trophy fee system, which elevated lions, at least to hunters, from mere vermin to valuable animals to be sustainably conserved. Professional hunters were also instrumental in the creation and operation of most of East Africa's original national parks. The work of these dedicated visionaries many decades ago provided protected lands for both hunting and photo tourism that enabled lions to survive to this day, despite all the challenges that burgeoning human populations and shrinking, unprotected habitats present.  

Therefore, misguided anti-hunting campaigns that assert the elimination of trophy hunting will ultimately save lions puts a tragic twist on the the Aesop's lion's share fable. Its moral is that you may share the labours of the great but you will not share the spoil. Due to the massive rates of habitat destruction and increased levels of human-lion conflict their agendas will cause, their new moral could best be described as - you will spoil the labours of the great, leaving nothing to share. 

Because those who live with lions typically view them quite differently than those who do not, the proper conservation of lions demands that we embrace reality and pragmatism over emotions and personal preferences. Please, if you truly do want lions to have a future, recognize and address the true threats to them. Lions will have no share left once the habitats they require have been converted and can no longer support them.