The global outcry following Cecil’s death has sent shock waves across the world and has further ignited the political and public debate on the plight of wild lions and the inhumane actions of sport hunters, with the Born Free Foundation at the forefront of the campaign to protect wild animals and put an end to trophy hunting globally.
Cecil was collared and was being monitored as part of a conservation study by WildCRU (Wildlife Conservation and Conservation Research Unit, University of Oxford) - a group supported by Born Free. All the evidence shows that Cecil was illegally pulled out of a national park, where he lived a protected existence, to an area where he could be shot.
President of the Born Free Foundation, Will Travers OBE, has publicly called on the hunters to lay down their weapons of mass destruction. “Cecil’s story has sickened and saddened us all. We can no longer accept that hunting magnificent wild animals for ‘sport’ can be deemed acceptable. Cecil’s death was brutal and it showed no respect for this iconic symbol of Africa. Trophy hunting is no sport; it is merely a disguise for killing to massage an ego.”
Across Africa, lion populations have reduced by more than 50% since 1980, and in much of its range the declines have been far higher. Lions have disappeared altogether from at least 12 African countries, and possibly as many as 16, in recent years and only inhabit a fragmented 8% of their historic range.
Current estimates suggest there are barely more than 30,000 lions remaining across Africa and localised or regionalised extinctions in the next decade are a real possibility.
There is very little evidence that the proceeds of trophy hunting benefits conservation or local communities in the hunting areas, with as little as 3% or less of the revenue generated trickling down. Lions and other charismatic wildlife are worth far more alive than dead to Zimbabwe’s tourism industry. In Zimbabwe it is estimated that trophy hunting generates only 3.2% of total tourism revenue.
The practices of canned hunting operations have also been thrown under the spotlight, with allegations that lions are often drugged and baited to make them easier prey. Fuelled by their sensational appetite for trophies, the demography of hunters, who mainly stem from the US, pay thousands of dollars for their kill.
Virginia McKenna OBE, a name synonymous with lions and star of the wildlife classic Born Free summed up the feelings of millions around the world: “This whole story is like some terrible nightmare. The power of money, the ego of man, the lack of compassion for and real understanding of wild creatures, the concept of hunting as a “sport”. I thought we tried to instil kindness and respect in our children. Perhaps Mr Palmer thinks differently. But if what I heard today is true - that after killing Cecil he asked if they could find him an elephant - the future he faces is bleak indeed.”
n The Born Free Foundation is currently holding an exhibition at Horsham Museum. For more information see page 77.