By Andrew Turner MP - 17th November 2010
Andrew Turner MP calls for an international ban on the hunting of lions ahead of his Westminster Hall debate on government policy on lion trophies and the protection of lions.
Lions used to roam widely across Africa, and were only absent from rainforests and the Sahara desert. Today, lions only occur in sub-Saharan Africa and there is one small remnant population left in western India.
Everywhere else they have been persecuted and eradicated. About 50 years ago, it was estimated that there were still 200,000 lions on the African continent, of which perhaps 20,000 are left today. In all Africa, perhaps six populations contain sufficient numbers of individuals to be considered genetically viable. Those are located in Tanzania, Botswana, and South Africa.
The causes for this decline are largely attributable to eradication of lions by humans protecting their own lives and the lives of their livestock as more and more former lion habitat is given over to agriculture by a rapidly growing human population. Loss of natural prey is another important factor.
With a population of lions in such rapid and continuing decline, it is surprising that sport hunting is still permitted. The impact this hunting has on lion numbers should not be underestimated. Between 2002 and 2008, 4,250 wild lions were exported as trophies. Sport hunting targets adult animals, and hunters are largely after "trophy" males.
The figure of 20,000 lions remaining in Africa is composed of lions of all ages and sexes. It is estimated that only 15 per cent at most of any lion population is composed of adult males – the prime trophy targets. Therefore, instead of considering the figure 20,000, we must actually think of a figure of 3,000 as a trophy hunting resource. This level of specific offtake from any population, especially one already in freefall decline is neither ethical nor sustainable and is more aptly called "mining".
Lions are behaviourally and socially very complex animals. High levels of adult and even juvenile male lion offtake can result in a complete cessation of reproduction. In addition, surviving lion populations are considered fragile due to increased levels of exposure to domestic animal diseases like canine distemper.
I accept the UK is overall a minor importer of wild lion trophies – about 50 from 2002 – 2008 as compared to a staggering 2,792 for the United States.
Nevertheless, the ban on further lion trophy hunting imports would send both a powerful message to other importing nations to consider, and would remove an important cause of lion death.
We should all be working towards an international ban on the hunting of these wonderful and majestic animals before it is too late!