Cecil outrage could herald change in lion conservation - Researchers

2016-04-27 15:58
Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. (Paula French, AP)

Cecil strolls around in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. (Paula French, AP)

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Zimbabwe - Could we pay people to tolerate lions in the wild rather than having to hunt them?

That's the question being asked by a group of wildlife researchers who have been investigating what they call the "Cecil Moment", the outrage seen in the media in the weeks following the killing of Zimbabwe's iconic lion, Cecil, in Hwange National Park last July.

WildCRU, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit based at Oxford University, studied the global media response to Cecil's death. 

It found that there was particular revulsion for black-maned Cecil's killer, a wealthy US dentist called Walter Palmer, who shot the 13-year-old lion first with a bow and arrow and then, the next day, with a gun.

"There was overwhelming distaste for trophy hunting of a big cat, and a sense that this approbation was fuelled by moral indignation at the act," WildCRU said in a just-published paper entitled, "Cecil: A Moment or a Movement? Analysis of Media Coverage of the Death of a Lion."

WildCRU points out that lion hunting by professional hunters is often justified by the fact that the practice attaches a monetary value to the big cat, making it a valuable asset for others to preserve. Some of the money raised from lion hunts goes back to fund conservation in game-rich areas.

But during the "Cecil Moment", donors forked out more than $1m to go towards WildCRU's research. Money was also reportedly donated – or at least pledged – to Zimbabwe-based conservation groups.

"Lions might have a unique capacity to galvanise populist funding from the public to foster their own conservation and thereby to act as ambassadors for wildlife more widely," the paper suggests.

WildCRU asked whether it might be possible to turn the "Cecil Moment" into a "Cecil Movement" which would see a shift in conservation practices - and possibly a move away from trophy lion hunts.

The rights or wrongs of lion hunting in southern Africa are a hot topic in the conservation world.

They arouse such passions that the topic is often banned from Zimbabwe wildlife Facebook groups.

A conservancy in southern Zimbabwe came in for huge criticism in January after a professional hunter mooted plans to organise a raffle for a lion hunt there that would have raised money for conservation activities.

The Bubye Valley Conservancy later stressed that the planned raffle (which did not go ahead) had nothing to do with the directors of the conservancy or with researchers working there.

Lion-human conflict is also a big problem in Zimbabwe.

The official Manica Post newspaper reported last month that three lions in the southern Chipinge district had been found poisoned, likely by farmers fed up of them eating their livestock.

Read more on:    zimbababwe  |  cecil the lion  |  southern africa  |  poaching

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