By Omboki Monayofirstname.lastname@example.org
On August 10, 2022, the world marked World Lion Day. In Kenya, the day went by largely unannounced, as the country’s voters waited for the results of the August 9, 2022 General Election.
Along with South Africa, Kenya is one of the 33 countries that are home to a considerably large population of lions in Africa.
Among African nations, Tanzania is home to an estimated 50 per cent of the lions in the wild, with Kenya estimated to have some 2,489 lions. In total, there are 16,000-30,000 lions living in the wild worldwide.
Lions are also found in smaller populations spread across Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The lion population in South Africa is currently estimated at 2,300. According to the Kevin Richardson Foundation, hunting leads to the killing of around 1,000 lions each year.
In SA, between 8,500 and 10,500 lions languish in captivity at nearly 400 commercial breeding and display sites.
In 2017, about 800 lion skeletons were exported to the Far East for the purpose of making traditional medicine such as bone wine.
Scientists have predicted that lions will become extinct by 2050 if nothing is done to stop the current decline in population.
The magnificent beasts are already extinct in 26 countries where they once roamed.
Public opinion is, however, turning against the lucrative and commercial activity that has drawn sport hunters to the country for many years.
New research by World Animal Protection shows a growing number of South African citizens and international tourists want to see trophy hunting stopped and replaced with wildlife-friendly activities.
For more than 70 years, the animal welfare charity has been campaigning for a world where animals live free from cruelty and suffering.
It hopes to “give wild animals the right to a wildlife by transforming the broken systems that fuel exploitation and commodification” and also “stop the devastation of natural habitats”.
World Animal Protection released research into public attitudes towards trophy hunting on World Lion Day.
The survey interviewed 10,900 people from around the world, including South African citizens and international tourists from countries who most frequently visit the country.
Key findings from the research revealed that 84 per cent of international tourists agree that the South African government should prioritise wildlife-friendly tourism over trophy hunting.
Some 74 per cent of international tourists agreed that making trophy hunting a key tourist policy will damage South Africa’s reputation, while 72 per cent indicated they would be put off from visiting the country altogether.
An estimated seven in 10 South African citizens agree their country would be a more attractive tourist destination if they banned trophy hunting.
Nearly three quarters or 74 per cent of South African citizens agree that trophy hunting is unacceptable, particularly when there is poor utilisation of wildlife-friendly tourism alternatives.
Trophy hunting represents less than two per cent of the country’s economy.
It is estimated that the conversion of approximately 21 million hectares of land currently utilised for trophy hunting in South Africa to non-lethal tourism would create more than 190,000 jobs.
This represents over 11 times more than the 17,000 livelihoods that presently depend on trophy hunting.
According to research done in Tanzania by Packer et al. and published in 2011, higher rates of decline in lion and leopard populations have been observed in areas with trophy hunting compared to areas without it.
As the consultation on the draft Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity White Paper concludes in September, there is an increased chorus of voices agitating against the slaughter of animals in the name of trophy hunting.
Travel companies from around the world have added their support to the joint statement, many headquartered in the countries where most international tourists travelling to South Africa hail from, including the US, UK, Australia and Brazil.
In a signed joint statement made to the South African government, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Expedia Group are some of the world’s largest travel companies urging the government to publicly pledge an end to trophy hunting.
The giant tour firms are rooting for a future South African tourism industry that will be more “wildlife friendly”. It is their hope that SA will do away with sport hunting to protect its wildlife population.
Signatories agree that trophy hunting is cruel and unacceptable.
They believe that responsible wildlife-friendly tourism, which is a humane, sustainable and under-utilised alternative, can provide enough income and incentives to communities to conserve the animals without killing for purported sport and entertainment.
Coming just a few weeks after the release of the WAP report, the joint statement from some of the leading global tourist companies is clear that trophy hunting firmly belongs in the environmentally harmful and unsustainable past.
Nick Stewart, who is the Global Head of Campaigns for Wildlife at World Animal Protection, said the report had provided further proof on why a ban on hunting would result in higher tourism income for South Africa.
“Here is yet more evidence that developing wildlife-friendly tourism and the removal of cruel wildlife exploitation like trophy hunting and captive lion breeding, has the potential to enhance South Africa’s international reputation as a global leader and destination for wildlife-friendly experiences,” he said.
“We are now hearing a deafening call for change from tourists and travel companies alike. They are clearly supporting a move to protect South Africa’s iconic wildlife through alternatives that don’t harm and kill animals, such as responsible wildlife tourism. Listening to this call will make South Africa a more attractive destination of choice for responsible travellers as well as tour operators.”
The report revealed universally strong opposition to the bloody sport and a desire to finance the protection of the nation’s iconic wildlife through non-lethal alternatives such as responsible wildlife tourism.
The animal rights charity is asking the public to add their voice to the 60-day public consultation on the white paper and demand a genuine wildlife friendly future for South Africa.