Sat, Aug 15, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Conservationists say hunting lions best way to save them

A blanket ban on trophy hunts would cause the animal market to drop to ‘meat prices’

By Norimitsu Onishi  /  NY Times News Service, OLIFANTSVLEI, South Africa

Illustration: Constance Chou

Before the two hunters from Texas had breakfast, Stewart Dorrington drove through his 4,856-hectare game ranch. As the early-morning sun cast a soft glow on the landscape, turned a wintry pale brown, buffaloes wandered in the tall grass and giraffes appeared in a cluster of trees.

Dorrington drove on, pointing to a blind where his US clients would wait for a target to shoot with their bows. He moved on, past a house rebuilt after a fire during his mother’s childhood, then a dam raised by his grandfather, memory and longing melting into the South African Bushveld.

Then kudu antelopes sprinted across a clearing. Dorrington quickly turned to the business at hand.

“My trophy hunting price is US$2,500” for a kudu, more than 10 times what he would sell one of the animals for meat, he said.

“You stop trophy hunting, the live market is going to change completely; it’ll go to meat value, really,” less than US$0.60 a pound (454g), he added. “So that will deprive the national parks and the provincial parks of a lot of their budget.”

Many scientists agree with him.

Despite intensifying calls to ban or restrict trophy hunting in Africa after the killing of a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe, most conservation groups, wildlife management experts and African governments support the practice as a way to maintain wildlife. Hunting, they contend, is part of a complex economy that has so far proven to be the most effective method of conservation, not only in Africa, but around the world.

While hunting is banned in government parks in South Africa, animals inside their boundaries are routinely sold to game ranches when their populations are considered excessive, generating money to maintain habitats and fight poachers.

And because trophy hunting is legal in private game reserves, conservationists contend the animals end up fetching higher prices than they would if killed for food or other reasons. Lion hunts, one of the most lucrative forms of trophy hunting, bring in between US$24,000 and US$71,000 per outing on average across Africa, according to a 2012 study.

In southern Africa, the emergence of a regulated trophy hunting industry on private game ranches in the 1960s helped restore vast stretches of degraded habitats and revive certain species, like the southern white rhinoceros, which had been hunted almost to extinction, conservationists say.

A similar shift occurred in the US decades earlier when the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 allocated the proceeds from hunting to bring back lands and animals, they say.

“There’s only two places on Earth where wildlife at a large scale has actually increased in the 20th century, and those are North America and southern Africa,” zoologist and chairwoman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group Rosie Cooney said.

“Both of those models of conservation were built around hunting,” she said.

Opposition to trophy hunting by animal rights groups grew after Cecil, the Zimbabwean lion who had been collared and tracked by researchers for years, was killed by a US dentist from Minnesota.

The Zimbabwean professional hunter who organized the hunt is scheduled to appear in court next month. Zimbabwe’s government, which has long had antagonistic relations with the West, has called for the US hunter’s extradition, and this week Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe blamed foreign “vandals” for the lion’s death.

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