An article on that appeared in the online magazine AFRICA GEOGRAPHIC “The BIG LIE about lion trophy hunting” recently came to my attention. You can find it here
I cannot remember when I last read such a lot of balderdash written by a person who obviously has a great writing talent – as Simon Espley obviously has – but who equally obviously has absolutely no idea about the subject matter about which he writes.
As somebody who has spent his whole adult life (58 years) in the service of Africa’s wildlife – most of it working inside (and commanding) some of Africa’s biggest and most prestigious national parks – let me enlighten Mr Espley with regards to where his argument has gone wrong. Oh, and by the way, I have personally shot a fair number of lions: young (2, 3 and 4 year old) nomadic stock-killers that had been evicted from their parental prides by their own fathers and mothers – and which had been forced (by territorial lions) to leave their erstwhile homes inside the national park and take up residence on man-occupied farms; old nomadic stock-killers nearing the end of their lives – that had once been territorial pride males but which had been evicted by younger and stronger males and also forced to leave their erstwhile national park homes; and various other lions that had become man-eaters. I have never once shot a lion for sport. So I cannot claim to be a “trophy hunter”.
Espley has a remarkable lack of understanding of “sustainability” which, in very plain English, simply means something that is “indefinitely repeatable”.
He provides us with six examples of what he calls the “NOT sustainable” trophy hunting of free ranging lions.
(1). He says that the “The awarding of (lion) trophy hunting quotas off the back of no relevant statistics are NOT sustainable”. How does he come to THAT conclusion? If someone does not know the size of the (lion) population he is dealing with he might well make a mistake when awarding a quota – YES – but then he might, from extensive experience, have a very great understanding of the numbers of lions present and he could hazard a confident and conservative guess which might well be right. Nevertheless, it might also be wrong. And I think this is what Esply is trying to convey.
However, THAT is NOT what he describes. Consider this scenario: If a manager knows that he has approximately 1000 buffalo on a certain piece of land, he will know that he can safely award an annual 50 buffalo bull “take-off” (without any finite set of statistics) and be very confident that his thumb suck quota is well within the sustainable annual harvest of the resource that he is dealing with. The same could, conceivably, be done with lions. A quota may not reflect the 100 percent a maximum number of lions that can be hunted from a particular lion population but, if the manager is confident that his quota is within the sustainable harvest limit, that quota must be considered acceptable. And no two-bit animal rightist has any right to tell the world that the manager is wrong!
(2). Espley is scathing about the concept of “problem animal” lions – such as stock-killers He tells us that “trophy hunters” are often used to perform these lions’ execution. This is not quite true. What is true, however, is that “experienced hunters” are sometimes tasked by the government to shoot stock-killing lions. This is a good policy because “experienced hunters” directly identify the culprit animal and dispatch it with great expertise and minimal fuss. And THAT is what GOOD MANAGEMENT is all about. I suppose it would be true to say that some of those “experienced hunters” could also be “professional hunters” – hunters who make a living from guiding fee-paying clients on trophy hunts – but when they are hunting a stock-killing lion they are carrying out an essential wildlife management job. They are not THEN hunting for a trophy lion.
Most stock-killing lions, anyway, are young nomads – between the ages of about two and five years old. They are not normally trophy-quality lions. And big male lions rarely become stock-killers. Of all the stock-killing lions that I have shot, the majority were between the ages of two and four years. I have only ever shot two big black-maned stock-killers. These were animals which had recently been deposed from their positions as pride males, inside the national park. One other “quality” male that I shot I estimated to be between 4 and 5 years old. I once shot a very big black maned-lion that was in the company of three nomads of about three years of age. This group of four had become man-eaters as well as stock-killers and the big male had tagged along with the younger animals – outside the national park. He lived by scavenging from their kills because he could no longer kill large game animals himself. After I had killed this big (skin and bone) lion I discovered that his stomach was one big cancerous growth.
Espley insists that the “trophy hunters” who – with equal dogmatism he advises us – are called upon to dispatch stock-killing lions, do not always kill the true culprits. He claims that the “professional hunters”, rather than killing the smaller, younger, nomads (that I say are the most responsible for most stock-killing events), shoot, instead, whatever trophy lions they can find. In making these allegations, Esply clearly exhibits the fact that he has ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA about the realities surrounding stock-killing lions; or lion behaviour in general. He goes on to claim: “This gap in legislation – empowering the two beneficiaries of ‘problem animal’ execution to act as witness, jury, judge and executioner – is not sustainable.” And here he goes off on his pet subject again. What he rants about in this instance has absolutely nothing to do with “sustainability” – of anything!
This whole part of his dissertation is supposition – directed purposefully towards denigrating trophy hunters. None of it is true!
(3). In this instance, he advises us all that: “If the long term conservation of the (lion) species in the Kunene (in Namibia) were (is) to be secured (sic)” “There is an urgent need to adapt the management and utilisation strategies relating to lions.” Then he goes on to observe that:” A rapidly reducing male/female lion ratio is NOT sustainable.”
(4). In this part of his treatise, Espley claims that “scientific studies” identify “over-hunting” as the major reason for the steep decline in lion populations in Tanzania; and he goes on to say: “Being tagged as the cause of crashing the lion populations makes trophy hunting of lions in Tanzania NOT sustainable”. In this statement Espley does not recognise the massive human population explosion that is taking place in Africa right under his nose; and the fact that most lion declines have been caused by man’s expanding populations encroaching on lion habitats.
(5). In this part, Espley resurrects the animal rightists’ propaganda stories of “Cecil the Lion” and of “Xanda the Lion” which we have discussed at length on the website before. So I am not going to elaborate on those criminal fabrications again. This fact identifies him as an animal rightist in no uncertain measure. He concludes this part with: “So lions of all ages are being shot, and the trophy hunting industry lies and reinvents the justifications each time to suit their need to keep the business model rolling. THAT is not sustainable.” I am not even going to attempt to denigrate these assertions.
(6). In this last column of his diatribe, Espley repudiates the considerable benefits that can be derived by rural communities from limited and sustainable trophy hunting. He clearly hates the idea of trophy hunting and he uses every excuse in the book to vilify the practice.
CONCLUSION: In finishing my review of Espley’s article, I wonder why I ever agreed to even look at it. It is the most uninformed attempt to denigrate trophy hunting by a totally ignorant animal rightist that I think I have ever read. And, when I wrote THAT sentence I knew why I agreed to do this review: To expose the ridiculous perceptions of yet another ignorant and doctrinaire fool who writes about a subject that he has no knowledge about whatsoever. And I now realise that I agreed to do this review only to counteract what Espley has said – rebutting his ridiculous ideas with reason and with fact – because if I did NOT do so many people in the general public might just think that what he had written was the truth.
It is because the general public is exposed to such diatribe – and because they read it – that so many people are led astray.