Lion Declines Linked To Trophy Hunting And Bone Trade

Psychopaths can not stand that there is another species they have to respect.

By  -  13. January 2020

Lions are rapidly disappearing from the African continent. The species suffers thanks to our own expansion and exploitation. Declining numbers are attributed to loss of habitat and subsequent prey, retaliatory killings, trophy hunting, and legal lion bone trade.

Unfortunately, some countries continue to promote trophy hunting and lion bone trade as solutions to the problems of habitat loss and retaliatory killings. Those countries are stuck in the past with the archaic idea we must kill to protect.

When we look at trophy hunting, proponents claim the practice places value on the lives of lions that incentivizes communities to protect the species and their habitat. And Tanzania has protected a lot of land in the name of trophy hunting.

But studies show the dramatic decline of lions in Tanzania occurred specifically because of trophy hunting. It doesn’t matter if land is preserved if we continue killing wildlife.

Trophy hunting actively promotes unsustainable hunting through financial incentives. Arguing Tanzania’s trophy hunting industry simply needs proper regulation fails to acknowledge the inherent flaws with the practice directly opposing conservation.

South Africa took their trophy hunting industry in a different direction when they began breeding lions in captivity. They’ve been successful in the sense they now have as much as 14,000 captive lions (compared to the 20,000 remaining in the wild).

However, most South Africa’s captive lions were bred for the purpose of being killed by wealthy trophy hunters or supplying wealthy customers of the lion bone trade. These lions serve no direct conservation purpose since they cannot be released back into the wild due to their poor genetic history.

Those promoting exploitation of lions will point to the concept South Africa’s wild lions are protected through an indirect benefit. Captive lions are the main source of supply for the hunting and bone trade industries, relieving pressure on wild populations.

This idealism is endangering the future of wild lions as recent poaching increases are linked to lion bone trade demand. Poaching for lion parts accounted for 35% of all human-caused fatalities and 48% of retaliatory killings. South Africa’s legal exploitation is fueling illegal activities and negatively impacting rural communities’ relationship with wildlife.

Destructive practices like trophy hunting and bone trade are, unfortunately, legal. South Africa legally exported 6,000 lion skeletons between 2008 and 2016. And they’re looking to export more. They tried to increase their yearly export quote to 1,500 in 2018 but reduced it after public outcry.

Game breeders carry a lot of political sway and are backed by wealthy hunting and trade industries. They successfully lobbied to change the legal classification of lions from wild species to farm animals in 2019.

Domesticating lions will further weaken their genes through artificial selection and increase the probability of another major threat to wild populations. Disease.

Diseases proliferate in wild species when they’re treated like livestock. For example, chronic wasting disease (CWD) is currently making its way through North America’s wild deer specifically because of poor management practices in the hunting industry. Lions might be the next species under threat as South Africa is following in the same footsteps as game breeders in North America.

We’re moving toward a future where lions will only be visible from behind a fence. Those lions will be a shell of their past and suffer at genotypic and phenotypic levels. At some point we must realize that placing a price tag on wildlife through hunting and trade devalues their lives. Our relationship with wildlife won’t change if don’t value other species as much as we do our own.


  1. Jared Kukura

    Jared Kukura on January 17, 2020 at 12:28 am

    It’s important to note that while Amy Dickman’s opinions on trophy hunting bans were published in Science Magazine, they received backlash from other members of the scientific community. To learn more, read here:

    Links to Amy’s letter and rebuttals are included in the post.

  2. Amy Dickman

    Amy Dickman on January 14, 2020 at 2:45 pm

    Dear Jared, I think the ‘split’ within the IUCN is mischaracterised, and they have clarified that the WCEL paper was not an IUCN position, but merely one of several papers submitted for discussion – the review of the WCEL piece (page 10) is worth looking at in case you haven’t seen it:

    As you say, it is clear from some of the rebuttals that some people think viable alternatives do exist – but belief is very different from proof. Given the huge areas of land currently protected under trophy hunting, there is nothing in the response letters that suggests that viable alternatives currently exist for most of those areas. Most of the ‘alternatives’ suggested – bushcraft training, agri-tourism etc – just don’t provide meaningful economic reasons for land managers to maintain large, dangerous species such as lions and elephants, and their habitat, in the same way that trophy hunting can.

    There is plenty of hope and good intentions on all sides, and I personally am working hard on examining and developing alternative conservation approaches. The snow leopard example you mention is one great example of a valuable approach and should be celebrated. I have developed similar performance payment approaches, and it is important to keep working on conflict reduction and community engagement.

    However, there are many issues. Firstly, those approaches tend to rely on donor funding, rather than actually generating income. Secondly, the approach you mention (and the ones I have developed) are based on community relationships, so are less applicable for securing areas without people in them, which are some of the most important for wild species. Tourism and even donor funding is fickle and less available in conflict-prone areas such as West and Central Africa, which still has some important wildlife range covered by hunting areas. Importantly, as exciting and valuable as they are, there is simply evidence of them being ready to be implemented and funded at the scale needed. And critically, it is vital to determine the views of those people who will be affected by trophy hunting bans, and ensure they have voice and power in this debate, rather than it being driven by people living far from the realities of wildlife conservation.

    We should absolutely invest and examine alternatives, and I am committed to doing that. However, it is a highly misleading and dangerous narrative to suggest that removing trophy hunting at this stage would clearly be a ‘win’. I, and very many other highly respected colleagues, are deeply concerned that by doing so before those alternatives are ready could actually worsen the major threats of habitat and biodiversity loss. I believe that idealism is much more likely to be a threat to conservation, not only of lions but of many other species. Thanks for your time,

    Best wishes,


    • Jared Kukura

      Jared Kukura on January 14, 2020 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Amy, I don’t think we’re going to agree on trophy hunting but I appreciate you taking the time to respond.

      I think it’s interesting you state there is no proof of viable alternative but only beliefs. If examples of conservation successes without hunting don’t demonstrate proof, I don’t know what does.

      I do think your last paragraph is a little off base, although commonly used to promote trophy hunting. I understand there are many highly respected members of the scientific community who agree with you but, again, there are many others who disagree. This isn’t an argument where its scientists against animal rights activists.

      I also think its idealistic to believe we can manage exploitation of wildlife at levels which benefit conservation, particularly when money is involved. Time and time again we see overexploitation destroy nature because short-term profits matter when you’re running a business. Whether it be mining, logging, fishing, trophy hunting, etc.

      A great example of this is how lion populations declined in Selous because of unsustainable hunting incentivized by short-term leases.

      • Amy Dickman

        Amy Dickman on January 15, 2020 at 2:59 am

        Dear Jared, as you say, I suspect we will not agree, but I appreciate you taking the time and being open to a discussion, including having the comments openly shown here. That is far more than many outlets do, and I think it is critical that we can all openly and respectfully discuss our points of view, even when they are emotive and strongly held.

        To clarify, conservation successes obviously can certainly occur without hunting, but that does not necessarily make them viable alternatives. The critical point is whether the currently-hunting areas have the necessary characteristics required by the alternative option (e.g. funding, governance, stability, rich wildlife populations, local buy-in etc etc) to have them implemented in those areas. For example, I am proud of developing locally-based initiatives where we directly reward and incentivise communities for tolerating wildlife on their land, and that seems to have helped lead to far less wildlife killing in those areas. While it is possible that such an approach (similar to the Mongolian one) could be rolled out across hunting areas, it would take vast amounts of external and sustained funding. Given our current huge deficit for managing protected areas in Africa, that just seems extremely unlikely.

        It is actually one of my frustrations – if those (often very wealthy) groups campaigning for trophy hunting bans actually invested those funds into alternative solutions on the ground at scale, it could actually be positive. However, without that, I stand by my central concern, stated in the last paragraph, that stopping the hunting before viable alternatives are ready is very likely to actually lead to far more wildlife killing, and none of us presumably want that.

        It may be idealistic to think we can manage exploitation of wildlife when money is involved, but the IUCN data suggests wild lion populations are increasing only in two countries – Namibia and Zimbabwe, both of which use trophy hunting as a key part of their management – showing that it is possible. There are plenty of examples where it can work, shown here –

        More centrally, if there is no monetary value of wildlife involved, how do you manage them? Tourism is unlikely to be possible in many places (and has significant issues of its own, including carbon emissions, water use and infrastructure construction), so again, then we are left with donor/Government funding to protect wildlife areas, or novel mechanisms without a significant evidence base.

        I am often false characterised as ‘pro’ trophy hunting, which is not the case. It is not successful everywhere, and there are clear cases where poorly regulated trophy hunting has led to population decline (e.g. in Hwange before the hunting reforms), and few people would support that. You mention the Selous popuations, and certainly Packers data suggested evidence of unsustainable hunting having a negative impact. But lets also remember that even given that, Selous has managed to retain probably the largest lion population left in Africa, because keeping it as a protected area (even a Game Reserve) has reduced the far larger threats of habitat loss and conflict with people.

        The decline in lions outside hunting or other protected areas can be far greater – in our area, village land, we had levels of killing that were 100 times what would have been permitted in a trophy hunting area. I strongly fear a situation where hunting areas are degazetted and we end up with far higher levels of horrible deaths, mainly snaring and poisoning. That seems highly likely at present, and although those deaths would not be on social media, they would have very real impacts on conservation and animal welfare. I can’t imagine any of us want that, which is why we owe it to have nuanced discussions.

        Ultimately, it is not a one-size-fits all approach. I would just say that we have to look at each country and site individually, and work with the relevant stakeholders there to try to assess what is the best available option for wildlife management there. Critically, the impacts on local people should also be considered – I would urge you and your readers to order and think about this book, which looks fascinating:

        I haven’t got more time to spend on this, and again, I appreciate your openness and willingness to engage in debate. I respect your views and site, but just dislike any articles that suggest it is black or white – it is far more nuanced than that. Thanks and best wishes,


  3. Heather Coloccia

    Heather Coloccia on January 14, 2020 at 9:31 am

    It’s so sad that it’s come to this. It breaks my heart to see wildlife to be treated like this. I wish these disgusting people in the African-government could make this illegal. I feel heart sick!

    • Amy Dickman

      Amy Dickman on January 14, 2020 at 2:49 pm

      Dear Heather, domestic trophy hunting is still permitted by many governments, including those of the UK and US. If those countries are against trophy hunting then I think they should ban it domestically first, and let African countries (who have often maintained impressive populations of very dangerous species) continue to make their own management decisions. I understand your sadness about any wildlife killing, but I don’t think it is helpful to suggest the people in the African government are disgusting – in my experience they are usually doing as good a job as they can under very difficult circumstances. Best wishes, Amy

      • S. Schroeder

        S. Schroeder on January 15, 2020 at 11:27 am

        Amy, I agree, and we are working on it, believe me. #BanTrophyHunting

      • S. Schroeder

        S. Schroeder on January 15, 2020 at 11:29 am

        Amy, we are working on it, believe me! It’s hard here in the U.S. when we have a complete moron as our president. His own sons trophy hunt. And THAT is disgusting. But unlike a lot of other Americans, I have been to Africa, and I have seen that it is difficult there. We still have to work hard to stop the wholesale slaughter of African animals, especially lions. It is indefensible. I don’t care what kind of money comes in from it, it’s corrupt any way you look at it. Lions are Africa’s Crown Jewels, and if African leadership and governments cannot respect that and take care of the remaining lions, it’s on them. We disagree. Killing is NOT conservation.

  4. Amy Dickman

    Amy Dickman on January 14, 2020 at 8:10 am

    Dear Jared, it is commendable that you are so deeply concerned about lion decline, and I share that concern, running one of the most significant lion conservation projects in the world. However, I think you need to be very cautious about some of your over-interpretations here. If you look at the IUCN – the global conservation authority – you will see that even though trophy hunting can have population-level impacts when poorly implemented, it is not viewed as a significant threat at a rangewide scale, and can sometimes have positive impacts, e.g. in populations in Zimbabwe and Namibia.

    The major threats to lions are habitat loss, prey loss and conflict with humans. Trophy hunting – whether you personally like it or not, which I do not – secures large tracts of habitat for lions, helping reduce those major threats. I think it would be wonderful to see a world without trophy hunting, but ONLY once we have viable alternatives for protecting that land and those species. Currently we simply don’t have those viable alternatives for most wild lion habitat protected by trophy hunting. Removing it before those alternatives are in place would remove the small amount of mortality through trophy hunting, and likely replace it with far higher levels of mortality due to conflict, prey loss and habitat loss.

    This is a subject which deserves far more nuanced and balanced debate. We are indeed moving toward a future where lions will only be visible from behind a fence, but I think that is even more likely if we remove our current ways of funding large areas, without any meaningful alternatives in sight. Thank you.

    • Jared Kukura

      Jared Kukura on January 14, 2020 at 9:06 am

      Hi Amy, thanks for reading and taking the time to respond.

      The IUCN has historically been a pro-hunting organization but times are changing. I’m sure you’re aware there has been a split within the IUCN where the WCEL Ethics Specialist Group has come out against trophy hunting.

      I understand there are many people who do not enjoy trophy hunting but think its the only option. But, as evidenced by the rebuttals to your letter in Science Mag, there are many people who believe viable alternatives do exist.

      I’m curious what your thoughts are on Bayarjargal Agvaantseren’s work with the Snow Leopard Conservation Foundation. She created an insurance program where ranchers must now pay in to receive payouts for livestock losses and worked with the communities to diversify their incomes. She then leveraged her relationship with the communities to lobby for a nature reserve. Her work reduced retaliatory killings and protected habitat. That sounds like a viable alternative to me.