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It’s not about one lion-killing dentist; the whole trophy hunting industry deserves our outrage

REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
The tragic death of Cecil the Lion shows why we need to end trophy hunting.

We may never know whether Minnesota’s trophy-hunting dentist who killed Cecil the Lion knew that his hunting guides purposely lured the beloved lion off its protected preserve with bait.

Collette Adkins Giese
Collette Adkins Giese

That glaring void reveals the main problem with the shadowy international trophy hunting industry – there’s so much we don’t know, and will never know.

And it makes clear why in the coming months the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must finalize its proposal to protect African lions under our Endangered Species Act. These protections would allow the agency to tightly regulate the import of sport hunted African lion trophies.

The need is pressing: Lions once occupied most of the African continent, even large stretches of the Sahara. Today, they are extinct in North Africa and research indicates they are gone from more than 75 percent of their historic range on the continent. They face numerous threats to their survival, such as habitat loss and poaching.

As a result, lions are now restricted mainly to protected conservancies and game management areas. Lions are even declining in some protected areas and, with a couple of exceptions, are virtually absent from unprotected areas.

The proposed Endangered Species Act protection of lions would require that anyone wishing to import “African lion specimens” get prior approval from the Fish and Wildlife Service. Permits could only be issued for “scientific purposes, the enhancement of propagation or survival of the species, economic hardship, zoological exhibitions, educational purposes, or special purposes consistent with the purposes of the Act.”

In effect, an Endangered Species Act listing would place the burden on the person requesting the permit to prove ahead of time that their request meets those standards. And that would likely sharply decrease the number of dead lions imported into the U.S.

Without Endangered Species Act protections, the trophy hunting industry will continue to profit as lion populations plunge closer to extinction. And lion hunting is big business. The Eden Prairie dentist who killed Cecil paid more than $50,000 for the hunt. And a 2009 study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimated that trophy hunters kill around 600 lions a year.

Questions abound over how much of the hunt fee is used for lion conservation, if at all. Some studies have indicated a tiny percentage of those fees – as little as 5 percent – actually go to fund conservation activities.

Equally troubling is that the limits on how many lions can be killed by trophy hunters are rarely based on sound science. Instead, they’re too often calculated to ensure maximum funds are generated. And scientists have warned that trophy hunting can lead to the death of lion cubs – after trophy hunters kill a male lion, a new male will take over the pack leadership and kill cubs sired by the dead male lion.

The furor over Cecil’s death has also exposed Congress’ habitual underfunding of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Without adequate funding, the agency has been unable to promptly act to protect lions under the Endangered Species Act. According to the standards set out by the Act, lions should have been protected years ago: The petition seeking that protection was filed back in March 2011.

And hardly is funding a problem limited to foreign species. Many highly imperiled U.S. animals and plants have waited decades for protection decisions, in no small part due to lack of funding.

The tragic death of Cecil the Lion shows why we need to end trophy hunting and is a vivid reminder of the high cost of putting off the protection of rare wildlife.

Collette Adkins is a Minnesota-based attorney and biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity where much of her work focuses on protecting imperiled predators.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by joe smith on 08/08/2015 - 08:03 am.

    The pride lion got his position by killing or running off the prior pride lion, he then killed all the former leaders cubs to bring his newly acquired pride into estrous so he can sustain his bloodline. The minute a lion takes over a pride he is challenged to keep it by other males….. This happens daily in the bush. I didn’t see 1 hunter in this natural scenario.
    Read the article of the student who is here from Zimbabwe, he said every time a lion is killed the village celebrates one less predator stalking them or their livestock.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 08/08/2015 - 10:58 am.

      Its called Nature

      Trying to claim that a hunter is the same as nature is a rather strange. Natural habitats have thrived (despite animals eating each other) but the presence of poachers has endangered such habitats. That is a fact.

      Regarding the student from Zimbabwe, what you and he don’t state is that these villagers deliberately move into areas near the nature habitat.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 08/08/2015 - 07:43 pm.

      So what?

      The coward that killed that lion has no bravery other than the one he purchased and is holding in his hands. I expect nature to be ugly, but I also expect a human being, blessed with cognitive ability to rise above that behavior.

  2. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 08/08/2015 - 02:57 pm.

    Some “trophy”

    If you want to show the world what a Big Tough Hunter you are, go after the lion (rhinoceros, hippopotamus, antelope) with only a knife. Shooting an animal from a mile away with a high-powered sniperscope isn’t hunting, it’s just using living creatures for target practice. Bottom line: if you aren’t going to eat it (ALL of it), don’t kill it.

    • Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 08/09/2015 - 10:59 pm.

      A mile away

      My understanding is that he shot it ‘up close and personal’ with a crossbow. That is why it took forty hours of tracking to end the hunt.

      • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 08/10/2015 - 12:04 pm.

        Up close and personal with a spotlight shining on it while it fed on the carcass that lured it out of the preserve. Not only was the dentist a lousy human being, he is a horrible shot.

  3. Submitted by joe smith on 08/09/2015 - 08:49 am.

    The author made it sound like hunting was the cause of lion population going down with cub death and failed to say this happens daily in nature. Loss of habitat is main problem with most species that are in decline. Just trying to give different perspective folks, that’s all. Pride lions are very hard to hunt, they have many lionesses hunting for the pack and usually stay very close to their pride. Old lions and immature males are left to roam without the security of the pack and are much more easily attracted to bait.

  4. Submitted by DENNIS SCHMINKE on 08/09/2015 - 10:57 pm.

    Trophy hunting…

    …would not be my thing, but it is still an important (and revenue-generating) part of overall wildlife management.

    But, as I surmised from the beginning, this case became a poster-child for that very reason: Banning.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/10/2015 - 12:28 pm.

      Hunting Fees

      It’s my understanding that only about 5% of the hunting fees go towards wildlife management. That’s not much of a shot in the arm (pardon the pun) when you’re up against habitat loss, poachers, encroachment by villagers, and gangs who kill whole herds en masse.

  5. Submitted by Joe Smithers on 08/10/2015 - 09:03 am.

    trophy hunting

    What those opposed to trophy hunting fail to realize/conveniently ignore is that the hunters fees provide much more conservation for wildlife than any other source. The outrage over a lion that seemed to tolerate humans but was a killer himself is ridiculous. Had anyone gotten close to Cecil he likely would have quickly dispatched the person and then been hunted anyway as most lions that kill humans are anyway.

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 08/10/2015 - 11:34 am.

      Actually photo safaris etc…bring in 13 to 15 TIMES as much money as trophy hunting.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/10/2015 - 02:19 pm.

      In That Case

      If it’s all about conserving wildlife, why don’t trophy hunters donate some of the several thousands they are willing to drop on their “sport” to conservation efforts? Alternately, they could take a photo safari.

      Or doesn’t it count if nothing gets killed, and there isn’t a trophy to hang on the wall?

      “Had anyone gotten close to Cecil he likely would have quickly dispatched the person . . .” A good reason for humans to stay the heck away from lions.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 08/10/2015 - 03:19 pm.

      So, Joe

      is your position that we should just preemptively kill any creature that may be of harm to us? I’m sorry, but the whole “we must kill them to save them” meme sounds like a convenient rationalization from those desperate to defend an outdated, and frankly despicable practice. There are many other ways to find self-worth short of killing something to stick it’s head on the wall.

      • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 08/11/2015 - 03:17 pm.


        It is inconvenient that there are poachers out there that must be stopped. I am not advocating for preemptive kills of all creatures at all. I’m just stating the fact that most of the money spend on trophy hunting goes to protect wildlife from poachers and that they are a major source of funding for conservation. I think people need to quit vilifying big game hunters just because they don’t like hunting because they are conveniently forgetting the conservation that takes place as a result of those hunts.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 08/11/2015 - 07:20 pm.

          I DO hunt!

          and in reality, most of the money does NOT go towards conservation

          “You have to decide what conservation is,” Chris Mercer with the Campaign Against Canned Hunting told National Geographic. “You can’t just look at numbers of animals. I would define real conservation as the preservation of natural functioning ecosystems. On ranches where farmers buy animals, put them on their land, bring the hunters on to shoot them, and then go back and buy more — that has nothing to do with conservation.”

          “However, LaFontaine said that many wildlife advocates believe money generated by the trophy hunting industry doesn’t actually go into the right hands.

          “What happens in practice, most of the time, that money goes straight to corrupt government officials or outfitters and doesn’t actually wind up back in hands of local community where hunting goes on, and they then aren’t incentivized to protect wildlife and conservation areas,” he said.”

          • Submitted by Joe Smithers on 08/12/2015 - 11:44 am.

            you hunt

            But do you trophy hunt in Africa? I’m sure there are instances where the money does not go to the right place but in general the money from trophy hunting provides a large amount for the conservation efforts.

            • Submitted by jason myron on 08/12/2015 - 04:05 pm.

              But that has no basis in fact, Joe

              I know you desperately want to believe it, but if you think that majority of money doesn’t fall into unscrupulous hands in these third world countries, you’re being naive. And no…I don’t trophy hunt period. It’s a despicable practice and I have no respect for anyone that partakes in it.

  6. Submitted by Claude Ashe on 08/10/2015 - 11:02 am.

    Please. Not another thing to be “outraged” over.

    Please— let’s not keep using the word “outrage.” It’s arrogant. Not only do Americans arrogantly travel to another country to trophy hunt, now they’re arrogantly shouting about what the county’s priorities should be.

    Locals interviewed from Zimbabwe reported being FAR more concerned about drought, lack of electricity and unemployment.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/12/2015 - 09:36 am.


      We should be outraged about a lot of things that we normally aren’t, including the plight of people in Zimbabwe. However, their lack of concern for their natural resources, including their wildlife, doesn’t trump the concern of the rest of the world. Just because they are suffering from different issues doesn’t make the loss of a species unimportant. Some of the problems in Zimbabwe are natural, others are man-made. Some the natural problems may resolve, some of the man-made problems may resolve. But extinction is forever. And Palmer’s guide was not some poor villager worried that a lion might kill him or his family. I imagine that he is paid quite handsomely by his clients to be able to “harvest” Zimbabwe’s natural resources, and doesn’t have a problem with water and lack of electricity. I also imagine that very little of that money benefits the wildlife or people who might actually have to worry about drought and lack of infrastructure. Honestly, the long term survival of people in Zimbabwe may very well rest upon harnessing its natural resources better because, of its three main industries, only tourism is likely to benefit a broad array of people (rather than just land owners, big businesses, and the questionable government). And,tourism has been declining, presumably due to the 60% drop in wildlife since 2000 (due to both environment destruction and poaching).

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