lions

Saving Lions by Killing Them

by ALEXANDER N. SONGORWA, NYTimes.com  |  published on March 19, 2013

Odd as it may sound, American trophy hunters play a critical role in protecting wildlife in Tanzania. The millions of dollars that hunters spend to go on safari here each year help finance the game reserves, wildlife management areas and conservation efforts in our rapidly growing country.

This is why we are alarmed that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the African lion as endangered. Doing so would make it illegal for American hunters to bring their trophies home. Those hunters constitute 60 percent of our trophy-hunting market, and losing them would be disastrous to our conservation efforts.

In 2011, five animal-rights and conservation groups petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as endangered, arguing that the population had fallen dangerously low because of habitat loss, poaching, commercial hunting and new diseases associated with human encroachment. “The U.S.,” their petition said, “is by far the largest importer of hunting trophies from Tanzania.”

While that is true, the lion population in Tanzania is not endangered. We have an estimated 16,800 lions, perhaps 40 percent of all lions on the continent, the biggest population in the world. Their numbers are stable here, and while our hunting system is not perfect, we have taken aggressive efforts to protect our lions.

Tanzania has regulated hunting for decades; female and younger lions are completely protected, and the hunting of males is limited by quotas set for each hunting area in the country. We recently made it illegal to hunt male lions younger than 6 years old to ensure that reproductively active animals remained with their prides. And proposed amendments to our wildlife law would further crack down on the export of lions taken illegally, penalize hunting companies that violated our rules and reward those that complied.

Africa, of course, is endowed with a tremendous wealth of wildlife, and Tanzania has been particularly blessed. We have roughly 130,000 elephants, two of Africa’s three largest populations of wild dogs, and spectacular landscapes like the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Mount Kilimanjaro. We have placed nearly a third of our land in national parks, game reserves and wildlife management areas.

Of all the species found here, lions are particularly important because they draw visitors from throughout the world — visitors who support our tourism industry and economy. Many of these visitors only take pictures. But others pay thousands of dollars to pursue lions with rifles and take home trophies from what is often a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Those hunters spend 10 to 25 times more than regular tourists and travel to (and spend money in) remote areas rarely visited by photographic tourists.

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