“The Cecil Effect”

Stephen Wiggins Article, Petition 10 Comments

Petition – To suspend the threatened Bubye Valley Conservancy (B.V.C) culling of a reported 200 ‘surplus’ lions from its purpose bred stock

Petition – Stop the Cull of 200 Lions in Cecil’s Home Country

It is being reported (‘Cecil Effect’ Leaves Park’s Lions at Risk of Cull,” Daily Telepgraph, 20 February 2016), that the Bubye Valley Conservancy (B.V.C) in Zimbabwe is planning to ‘sell-off’ (or a threatened cull to gain publicity?) of 200 of its claimed 500 lions held within its 2.1 meter high fenced borders (but granted, it is a big reserve). The B.V.C lions are free to roam within the Bubye reserve.

Blondie Leathem, general manager of Bubye Valley Conservancy, said: “I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation. If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them” – Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2016

Update – B.V.C has stated that is never ‘wanted’ to cull its ‘surplus’ lions – A Zimbabwean Park Denies Reports That it Wants to Shoot its Lions,” Quartz, 23 February 2016  Presumably B.V.C still wants paying hunter to shoot some lions though to sustain B.V.C’s business model? So who did make the threat of culling 200 of B.V.C’s ‘surplus’ lions then – B.V.C’s supporters, Dallas Safari Club perhaps?

The B.V.C opened in  1999 and is a privately owned reserve of some 850,000 acres (3,440 km2). From IUCN sub-population numbers, the estimated lion sub-population in Bubye, Zimbabwe was 9 lions in 1993, but by 2014 it was 330 lions. Was this recovery due to B.V.C.? The B.V.C now claims to have some 500 lions in its “conservancy.”

The B.V.C. lion population is also monitored for “research purposes” by Wild Conservation Research Unit (Wild CRU studied Cecil before his premature demise), Oxford University, but perhaps with the express aim of proving lion dynamics and modelling sustainable Trophy Hunting ‘science’ (the final verdict is still awaited on that).

It should be noted, that this is the same ‘conservancy’ that controversially wanted to raffle a lion hunt at the end of last year to raise some $150k USD. It has always been clear, that the B.V.C has traditionally derived its main income from commercial Trophy Hunting and bred (excessively) lions for hunting purposes:

Pieter Kat, director of LionAid, a UK-based charity, said “contraception should have been introduced at the conservancy years ago” [Pieter means for the lions, not B.V.C’s owners/shareholders I think] – “it’s too late now,” he said. “There is [perhaps] nowhere in Africa which could take so many lions.” NZHerald, 22 February 2016.

Paul Bartels, a wildlife scientist from South Africa’s Tshwane University of Technology, said female contraceptive implants used in smaller reserves would be impractical for Matilda’s (B.V.C) clan.

There are a lot of lions on that [Bubye] conservancy. It would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for contraception to make any real difference,” he said (Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2016).

There is no altruistic purpose at B.V.C to explicitly act as a lion conservation model. The B.V.C lions are predominantly a commodity to be sold as hunting trophies to support the B.V.C model (B.V.C thanks the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) “for supporting our lion research since the beginning“).

At B.V.C’s lion hunts, there has been a reported 100% kill rate on B.V.C’s own lion hunting quota (“2 – 3%” of the B.V.C lion population) every year – which says the targeted lions have no real chance of evading the paying hunters. So, B.V.C could legitimately be described as a glorified version of the ‘canned’ hunting model it would seem, with B.V.C deriving a claimed “30%” of its income from the lion hunts it sells.

B.V.C’s lions could (perhaps) now be sold to the highest bidder, possibly to China, as recently reported by LionAid, 26 January 2016 and we all know that’s not going to end well for any wildlife the Chinese ‘enjoy’ in their hypothetical/nonsensical medicines.

Can B.V.C’s ‘surplus’ lion prides be transferred to another reserve where their  lives might help bolster numbers? Well, of course that’s possible, but Brent Stapelkamp has summed up the predicament:

I will say though that this story highlights a very serious issue in lion conservation and that is the lack of space for lions in today’s Africa. Lions need vast areas of territory with abundant prey, where they won’t come into conflict with man and his livestock and these are few and far between.”

We should all now be putting our innovative minds together and generating a ground-swell of support for lions. We need to secure their habitats and landscapes, not just for them but for the people who live with them, so that lions from a place like Bubye could be relocated as whole prides to repopulate suitable habitat or corridors between suitable areas are managed to allow dispersal to repopulate areas. It is going to be costly but can we afford to turn our backs when lions need us most?” – Brent Stapelkamp,  a researcher with Oxford University’s lion project in the Hwange National Park for nine years.

So with external agencies imposing new, enduring trophy hunting restrictions from 2015/16 (United States Fish and Wildlfie Service and European Union), that specify any hunting must prove that it is scientifically sustainable before any trophy import can be permitted, is B.V.C’s planned “sell-off” due to a downturn in the ‘appetite’ for Trophy Hunting (this is being termed “The Cecil Effect” it would seem)?

It should be noted, that Cecil the lion was killed in July 2015, only some 7 months ago – there is no way that the B.V.C lion population could have expanded by an additional, untenable 200 lions in that time.

If lions breed at a rate of 5% a year the host population would have needed to be 4,000, which is more than the entire population of lions in Botswana” – A reliable source, deeply involved in lion dynamics has suggested.

So, the ‘excess of lions’ now being expressed by B.V.C is down to a misguided ‘model’ and unsustainable over-breeding. There is no correlation with Cecil the lion’s demise (may he RIP) and therefore, B.V.C’s “sell-off” cannot be attributed to any expression of public opinion in the intervening period, or the so-called “Cecil Effect.”

However, if there is indeed a downturn in Trophy Hunting, then this tells us a number of things:

  • That hunters are obsessed with gaining the trophy/trophies from their kill(s). If the hunter can’t easily gain ‘their’ trophies, then they are not interested in spending money to kill for fun anymore;
  • To be clear, there is nothing stopping hunters from doing what they have always done, paying to kill B.V.C lions, there are just potential restriction on gaining access to the resulting trophies;
  • But at the same time, the finance to support the breeding of trophy animals is suffering if there is a decline in uptake of the offer to pay to kill B.V.C’s lions. So if these hunters are truly motivated by some notion of conservation, then why don’t they either just finance the protection of species directly (without the killing), or if they truly believe what they have been doing is ‘conservation,’ then why the downturn, why is there any “Cecil Effect?
  • The truth is, there has always been the option to finance ‘conservation’ without killing, but the Trophy Hunters’ model had somehow become ‘acceptable’ in some circles and grown into a massive (and historically lucrative, easy money) industry. But less so now the ‘issues’ surrounding its questionable morality and ‘conservation’ values have been uncloaked in light of Cecil’s sad demise (may he RIP);
  • The Trophy Hunters and hunting industry (hunting associations, predator breeders, complicit authorities and government agencies tec.) has dressed all of their activities up as ‘conservation.’ But the truth is that hunting concessions (habitat) and wild species are being used to facilitate excessive hunting quotas and/or the breeding of animals just to be killed by hunters:

For example, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe – “69 out of 100 males were estimated to have died from age-independent causes in Hwange, and will continue to do so if estimated death rates remain unchanged. This means these males do not die of old age. The most likely cause of death is to be killed by trophy hunters or local farmers protecting their herds” – Wild CRU, “David Macdonald explains that Cecil’s death was part of a much wider story, Dr Andrew Loveridge, Professor David Macdonald and Dr Julia Barthold, 23 February 2016.

So, does the above statement sound like trophy hunters are helping lion conservation in Hwange, Zimbabwe?

  • The ‘protection’ such hunting habitats offer to curtail poaching and wildlife conflict is evident to some extent (but is by no means a consistent element), but that is not much use when the hunters pose the biggest threat to the same threatened wildlife and kill the ‘protected’ animals themselves anyway  (reference – How Do ‘We’ Save Panthera Leo?,” 5 January 2016).
  • Why can’t these ‘canned’ animals just be released back into the wild? There has definitely been more of a scientific approach to the lion breeding at B.V.C one would hope (the B.V.C lions are free to roam in prides and hunt too), but many ‘canned’ animals are hand reared and fed, often poorly bred from a limited gene pool (ie. genetically mutated) and not in strong enough health to survive in the wild. Lions exist in strong pride structures. Any disruption to a given pride, or territory disputes between an established pride and a ‘new’ pride can be devastating. So, the chances of any successful, or risk free reintroduction of any ‘canned’ stock into the wild is pure fantasy.

In conclusion, the only true conservation models are the sanctuaries and reserves where animals are given safe haven and breeding of the animals carefully managed and controlled (there are few, if any truly wild African lion ranges left). These models are self -financed (ie. from donations and/or Governments) where sustainability is key. As soon as an animal is turned into a commodity and/or excessively bred for theoretical hunting income (which may, or may not materialise), the ethics and true ‘conservation’ are exposed as a remote secondary consideration.

Related Articles:

  1. The ‘Canned’ Industry Deceit, Intimidation and Threats,” IWB, 20 February 2016
  2. The Bubye Conservancy lion trophy hunting raffle – the background,” LionAid, 5 January 2016
  3. “African Park Complains ‘Cecil Effect’ is Leaving too Many Lions Alive,” Take Part Daily, 24 February 2016
  4. The Cecil Effect: Zimbabwe Park warns it may shoot 200 ‘surplus’ lions,” NZHerlad, Peta Thornycroft, 22 February 2016
  5. ‘Cecil Effect’ Leave Park’s Lions at Risk of Cull,” Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2016
  6. Cecil the Lion’s Killing Could See Up to 200 Lions Being Culled in Zimbabwe Due to Overpopulation,” Huffington Post, 23 February 2016
  7. Reports of Threats to Cull Lions in Zimbabwe,” Born Free Foundation, 24 February 2016
  8. “The “Cecil Factor” and 200 Lions to Be Culled at Bubye?” LionAid, 1 March 2016
  9. Culling to Conserve: The Hard Truth for Lion Conservation,” National Geographic, 25 February 2016