Read Between the Lions
I f it weren’t for the scores of other issues on Americans’ minds these days, maybe we could put some heat on animal-rights activists to either learn about wildlife management or quit meddling in it.
This past spring, yet another tambourine-banging, money-raising organization that presents itself as supportive of animals, but is not, stuck its nose—which grows every time it issues a press release—where it doesn’t belong.
I won’t name it or any of its kind, because they’re all beginning to stink about equally. Instead, know that it tried to draw parallels between lion management in Africa with lion management in North America.
Beyond the elementary-school observation that both animals are big cats with whiskers and long tails, there aren’t many similarities in the past, present or future of these species.
Not ones to let facts get in the way of sensationalism and fund-raising, the group’s attempt was to capitalize on the now year-old story of Cecil the Lion.
Remember Cecil? That’s the name of a lion supposedly known almost everywhere—except in Zimbabwe—that was baited off a preserve by other-than-scrupulous people. The dentist from up north who shot that lion did his level best, from start to finish, to abide by Zimbabwe’s lion-hunting rules and eventually was found to have broken none of them.
Knee-jerk reaction to the hunt and its consequences, however, cost the man, his employees and his patients a tremendous amount of unnecessary loss in revenue and healthcare.
Fast forward to this year—a little late if you ask me—when the tambourines started shaking here. I’ll neither waste your time nor insult your intelligence by going into the misguided parallels drawn between the management of lions in Africa and those in our Rocky Mountain states.
In a nutshell, know that this group wanted you and me to believe that if we didn’t do something dramatic—and do it now—that mountain lions here would suffer the same fate as African lions.
So…a couple of things. First, where lions are hunted in these United States, stringent management programs are in place to protect the cats and their natural prey. Too few cats and too much prey equals an imbalance correctible by reducing the number of cats killed each year. Too many cats and too little prey is handled the opposite way. Simple.
Similar management strategy was in place in Zimbabwe until a lion named by shutterbug tourists wound up dead on the wrong side of the fence. A firestorm of social media ensued, including everything from demands for the immediate cessation of lion hunting to threats on the lives of everyone involved.
Fortunately, most threats of physical harm were just that, idle threats made by people half a planet away in more ways than geographically. Outcry directed toward the nation of Zimbabwe, no matter how little the criers knew about wildlife management, actually got its desired result.
Unfortunately for Zimbabwe’s lions and the health of their overall population, the country’s decision makers decided to shut down recreational lion hunts there indefinitely.
This past spring, I got a press release that took quite the opposite direction as the one from the animal-rights group. It was an update on the state of Zimbabwe’s lion population less than a year after the “Cecil” incident.
According to its data, that stoppage of lion hunting there—which roughly generated $50,000 per animal toward anti-poaching efforts, wildlife management, wildlife education and habitat restoration—resulted in…everybody say it with me…an overpopulation of lions.
On one of the country’s largest conservancies, just that one chunk of ground, managers already saw need to remove—which means kill in this context—as many as 200 lions. Might turn out to be 100, maybe even as few as 50, let’s say for the sake of conservatism and optimism. However you say it, each of those animals removed by the Zimbabwean government represents a loss to that nation of $50,000 or more.
If it’s 100 lions—I don’t even need a calculator for this – that’s $5 million, at least, that Zimbabwe won’t get to help its lion population or its law enforcement effort.
Back here at home, mountain lion populations generally are stable and, in some areas, on the rise. Extremists point to states that offer higher numbers of lions to hunters as being worst for the lions when, in fact, more hunting opportunity only exists where there is an overabundance of the animals.
Recoveries in areas where lion numbers dwindled historically are underway. And soon, if not already, cougars will inhabit all the space that remains available and suitable to them. Once they saturate that habitat, there won’t be room for any more lions.
That’s when we’ll either turn to population management through recreational hunting—a wildlife manager’s best tool these days—or risk losing a person to a lion that ran out of bunny rabbits to eat.
The last thing North American lions need is for managers’ hands to be tied by politicians who care more about votes than about wildlife and don’t know squat about the latter.
Great as this nation still is, there are plenty of things that could be a whole lot better. Mountain-lion management isn’t one of them. So far.