Lions, Land Use and Alternatives to Trophy Hunting
Following the killing of a lion, nicknamed Cecil, by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015, a WildCRU report on the role of lion trophy hunting in conservation highlighted considerable knowledge gaps in understanding how land use changes would affect lions and other wildlife where the future of trophy hunting is uncertain (Macdonald, 2016). Lion populations face serious threats: conflict with people and loss of habitat are the main dangers across much of their range. While trophy hunting can sometimes lead to local extinctions, it can also provide an important economic incentive to protect lion habitat from encroachment by livestock or agriculture, and may reduce conflict between people and lions. Depending on pressures on the land, trophy hunting bans or reduced viability of trophy hunting concessions may lead to the conversion of wildlife habitat to other uses such as agriculture, pastoralism or human settlement. In some places, it may possible to substitute trophy hunting with wildlife-friendly land uses such as photo-tourism, its feasibility depending on a range of factors, for example, transport, security and wildlife diversity.
In this project, supported by National Geographic, we are using a combination of approaches, including ecological risk assessment and spatial analysis, to identify where lion conservation efforts should be focused, what action should be taken to mitigate risks, and where that action is most urgently needed. To do this, we are compiling one of the most up-to-date and comprehensive databases available on lion population health and the state of protected areas for lions across Africa (IUCN categories I-VI, which range from strictly protected National Parks to wildlife areas managed for sustainable use). The methodology we develop for lions has the potential to be extended to provide a risk assessment framework for wider questions concerning the future of biodiversity and human development.