There's An Even Bigger Threat To Lions Than Trophy Hunters
The story of the senseless killing of a proud African lion known as Cecil has radiated across the world, where people from all walks of life are demanding a stop to these barbaric killings - and rightfully so.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that trophy-hunters kill approximately 600 lions each year, and other conservation groups allege that number could be slightly higher. This is deeply concerning because lion populations in Africa have decreased by almost two-thirds over the last 50 years, leaving as few as 32,000 lions left on the continent.
But these callous hunters are only a very small part of an even bigger problem.
Retaliations from ranchers
A 2006 paper for the Eastern and Southern African Lion Conservation Workshop stated that as with the world's other large carnivores, the reduction in lion populations has been largely due to preemptive and retaliatory killing by livestock owners.
West African ranching practice is to eliminate predators rather than attempt to live with them. Spearing and poisoning in retaliation for livestock depredation appears to be decimating lion numbers in southern Kenya. In East Africa, poison has been used widely, with the most recent development of using a soil dressing called Furadan, which is widely available and very inexpensive. They found that shooting an animal will take out a specific problem but poison has the ability to wipe out an entire pride at once.
The Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Veterinary Department have poisoned hyenas on a wide scale to protect rancher's livestock, and this in turn is fatally affecting lions and other scavengers as well.
In 2012, a study published by Duke University found robust evidence of the connection between the alarming lion population decline and a 75 percent loss of habitable savanna land during the 50 year period. This is due to the increase in urbanization and the conversion of the lion's savanna habitat to farmland.
Conservationist and researcher, Stuart Pimm stated, "The word savanna conjures up visions of vast open plains teeming with wildlife. But the reality is that massive land-use change and deforestation, driven by rapid human population growth, has fragmented or degraded much of the original savannah. Only 25 percent remains of an ecosystem that once was a third larger than the continental US."
It's a two-fold problem. Because their home is being swallowed up by agriculture, lions are migrating into areas inhabited by humans and are preying on their livestock. In return, ranchers kill the lions and the horrible cycle continues.
It's getting worse
The human population of sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double by the year 2050, which will result in more conversion of the African lion's precious habitat into agriculture and will bring more of them into deadly contact with humans.
We should be outraged by these brutal trophy killings. We should be outraged by lion habitat being decimated to make way for farm land. We should be outraged at the farmers who prey on lions to protect the cattle that they too will slaughter.
Cecil's killer was Walter Palmer, but for all of the other "Cecil's" trying to survive in an increasingly hostile world, our reliance on animal agriculture continues to be their biggest threat and ultimate demise.