You’ve all met Cecil

Hunting - image of Cecil the Lion at the Hwange National Park

Cecil the Lion; recognisable due to the dark streak in his mane

Now a bit of a celebrity among conservationists and animal lovers. Cecil was part of a study being run by Oxford University; which meant he was being monitored and wearing a tracking collar.

In July 2015 Cecil was lured out of his home in the Hwange National Park and shot with a bow and arrow. The culprit; an American dentist called Walter Palmer. Bad move, Walter.

The internet went mad. Many people called for Palmer’s arrest and the Zimbabwe government is trying to extradite him from the USA to face charges. Oh, and this happened;


When is hunting legal?

Ernest Hemingway with the dead corpse of a lion

Hunting is legal in many countries

Hunting lions in Zimbabwe is not actually illegal. In fact, they aren’t even a protected species. But hunters must have a permit issued by the government in order to hunt.

Reuters reports that the killing of Cecil was illegal because the land owner did not have a permit to hunt a lion. Palmer claims he thought the hunt was legal – and that he’d left the organising of permits to his guides. Palmer had paid £32,000 to go on a hunt. With that kind of money, you’d expect everything to be above board.

Poaching = illegal hunting

If you hear someone talking about poaching; they’re not talking eggs. Poaching is the term for hunting without the permission of whoever owns the land. Elephants are often targeted by poachers as their ivory tusks are very expensive.

So, if Palmer illegally killed Cecil the lion does that make him a poacher? Either way, he’s in big trouble.


Should we really blame hunters?

Delta Airlines Aeroplane - Hunting Cecil the Lion

Delta Airlines now ban the transportation of “trophies”

After all, Walter Palmer believed he was playing by the rules. If he’s telling the truth, then he didn’t know he was doing anything wrong. The people responsible are the governments which allow legal hunting, and also companies which make it easy for hunters to transport their prize home.

Campaign group Sum Of Us is pushing for airlines to ban the transportation of dead animals which belong to endangered species.

Their argument is simple – Hunters usually take the head, or even the whole body of their kill home as a prize. If the hunters can’t transport their prey home, then they will have less motivation to kill.


Join the Sum of Us campaign to ban the transport of endangered species

The campaign recently scored a win when airline company Delta, who announced they would ban transportation of lions along with other endangered species. This follows Emirates, United and American Airlines who made a similar announcement earlier this year. Yes most commercial airlines are involved. 


Can hunting actually help endangered species?

Image of a White Rhino, nearly extinct due to over-hunting

Did hunting save the White Rhino?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe warns that the African Lion could be extinct by 2050. It’s estimated there are only 20,000-32,000 African lions in existence – about 50% less than there were three decades ago. So why do some countries allow hunting?

When the White Rhino was nearly extinct at the start of the 20th century, landowners were encouraged to protect and breed them – then release them back into the wild. The landowners would then make money charging hunters for hunting permits. In this instance, it did help to boost the numbers of Rhinos… but at the end of the day, the animals were being bred to be killed.

Some also argue the money paid by big game hunters can be used to further help conservation. Animals will die eventually so why not let an older creature be killed – using the money to stop illegal poachers? The government can also regulate the amount of permits given out – controlling the number of animals which are killed.

Safari in Kenya

Would banning hunting lead to less tourism?

But does the money actually end up going towards stopping poachers? Countries like Namibia are good at showing where the money is used, others such as Zimbabwe are less transparent.

10% of Zimbabwe’s income is due to tourism. Without hunting, would this amount drop? Hunting permits are also sold for animals which aren’t endangered (think; zebras), meaning that in some cases the country selling the permit is getting money without losing a protected animal.

Win-win, right? Perhaps not, as either way animals end up being killed for sport.


The government has a choice; charge money for hunting permits, train rangers to catch poachers and use the money to protect the rest of the species. Or they can ban all hunting, which won’t really stop the poachers from trying.

It’s not all about money though. Every animal is part of the food chain – and removing animals for sport disrupts the chain – and this affects all the other animals. Killing Cecil the lion might mean that other endangered species might live a little longer (as Cecil is no longer around to eat them). However a recent study in Science Magazine shows how removing one link from the chain could cause big problems down the line. The loss of lions and other predators in an area could lead to a rise in the numbers of baboons. Baboons are known to spread into areas occupied by humans… bringing nasty parasites with them. So you see how it all connects?


How can we stop poaching?

Drones are being used to stop hunting by poachers

Drones may be the key to stopping poachers

Of course, not everyone agrees with the arguments above. So, apart from staying on the look out for poachers, are there other methods of stopping illegal hunting?

New technology might be the answer. Several park rangers are experimenting with drones. They are used to spot poachers –and so far it seems to work. Other research is looking into the patterns of where poaching occurs. Scientists will attempt to predict where the next incidents are likely to take place. Who said science is boring, huh?

Other conservationists are staining the tusks of Rhinos and Elephants. The dye is harmless to the animal, but makes humans become sick. This means the tusks are useless for medicine (what they are usually used for) and the number of hunted animals is decreasing.

Countries like Kenya and South Africa are taking the military option. However the risk of being caught doesn’t seem to stop poachers. When the number of rangers patrols increased, so did the number poachers. The poachers also started to bring AK-47s to protect themselves – and aren’t afraid to use them. Maybe it’s time for a new plan?


Hunting Explained? If we want hunting to stop, maybe we should question the governments who make it legal, rather than attacking a dentist who thought he was obeying the rules.