African Park Complains the ‘Cecil Effect’ Is Leaving Too Many Lions Alive

Zimbabwean officials say they need to get rid of 200 lions to avoid overpopulation.

Male lions in Zimbabwe. (Photo: Getty Images)

Feb 24, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy is home to more than 500 lions, and apparently that’s 200 too many.

The death of Cecil the lion at the hands of an American hunter last year—and the outrage that followed—has led to a drop in trophy hunting. Bubye was created and sustained in part by trophy hunting. Now that the hunters aren’t coming, the lion population has grown larger than the ecosystem can support, according to park officials.

They call it the “Cecil effect.”

“I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation.” Blondie Leathem, general manager of Bubye Valley Conservancy, told The Telegraph.

Leathem said park officials had originally considered killing 200 lions but ultimately rejected the plan. Now they are looking for a new home for the lions.

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“If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them,” Leathem said.

But animal rights groups and conservationists argue the park should have never relied on trophy hunters to keep lion numbers under control in the first place.

“The idea that lions need humans to control their numbers is arrogance,” PETA Director Mimi Bekhechi told The Huffington Post. “Nature always has maintained animal populations by gauging the amount of food available, not by considering the number of hunters.”

Finding a new home for lions free of human conflict or hunters is no picnic.

According to a new study, 69 percent of male lions in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park—Cecil was lured out of that park to his demise—die of causes unrelated to age. The park is off-limits to hunting, but there aren’t fences. Male lions often roam outside the 5,000-square-mile park in search of new territory, putting them at risk.

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and Oxford University found the biggest risk to wandering lions are trophy hunters and local farmers protecting their herds.

Julia Barthold, the study’s lead author and a postdoc at the Max-Planck Odense Center on the Biodemography of Aging in Denmark, said the opposite occurred in a 2,000-square-mile area of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, where lions have almost no contact with humans.

“In Serengeti, only six out of 100 male lions are likely to die from age-independent causes, meaning only very few die at the hands of humans,” Barthold said in a statement.

About 20,000 lions are left roaming Africa today, down from an estimated 200,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Scientists say the population could be halved in 20 years thanks to habitat loss, poaching, and other threats. The rapid decline, along with public outcry following Cecil’s death, has pushed the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to strengthen conservation efforts and crack down on trophy hunting.

“How trophy hunting impacts the population as a whole is a key research question for lion conservation,” Barthold said. “Our mortality estimates can be used to improve lion population management.”