Tarzan movies featuring great white hunters stalking exotic beasts in Africa dropped out of popularity decades ago, but sport hunting for trophies killed on “The Dark Continent” has persisted despite dramatic population declines among lions and other animal groups.
It’s logical to assume the threat of lions becoming as rare as a northern hairy-nosed wombat or a pygmy three-toed sloth would make big-game hunters take the king of beasts off their to-do lists. Logic, however, seems to have eluded the Houston Safari Club, which wants to weaken rules that have made it harder for its members to hunt lions.
The U.S. government tightened rules for hunters to bring lion and elephant trophies back to the country in 2015, after a Minnesota dentist killed Cecil, a 13-year-old protected lion in Zimbabwe who had become popular with tourists. “It’s almost impossible to get permits,” John Jackson III, a hunting advocate, told Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace.
Hunters brought 139 slain lions to Houston in 2015, but that number dropped to 97 lions in 2016 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the lions of western and central Africa to its endangered species list. The lions of east and southern Africa were listed as threatened. Only 19 lions have been imported to Houston since the start of 2018.
The decline has spurred the Houston Safari Club into action. It has reached out to the Trump administration to change the rules and formed a political action committee to raise money for candidates who promise to help make lion hunting easier. Jackson said it can take a year now to complete the application process.
He claimed millions spent by groups such as the Houston and Dallas safari clubs help support animal conservation. “Lions and elephants pay the bills,” Jackson said. But Anna Frostic, an attorney for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, said there’s no accounting of how African governments use the money spent to conduct safaris.
Beyond that, it’s counterintuitive to think killing individual lions will help protect the species, Frostic said.
The African Wildlife Foundation says there has been a 43 percent decrease in the African lion population since 1998, mostly due to a loss of habitat due to human encroachment and poaching. Only 23,000 African lions are believed alive today.
With many of the antelope, zebra and other animals on which they prey also in decline, lions have attacked livestock. In response, farmers have killed lions to protect their animals. That’s understandable, but seeing the lion population further reduced just so some bwana wannabe can boast he bagged a lion does not.
Photo safaris can be just as thrilling, don’t require participants to be experts with a gun and pump money into a local economy. If animal conservation is your goal, you can forgo the excursion altogether and contribute directly to organizations such as AWF, the World Wildlife Fund or Oceana, which would be happy to receive your donation.