The worldwide coverage surrounding Cecil the lion’s unnecessary and untimely death in Zimbabwe has been the story of the week. So why should we care? And what can we do to help turn the tide against poaching and trophy hunting in Africa?
It was one lion. Are people over-reacting?
It’s an indisputable fact. Poaching and hunting endangered wildlife is having a devastating impact on Africa’s eco-system.
“It is estimated that between 30-50 percent of Africa’s lion population has been wiped out over the course of the last two decades,” says Walter Mzembi, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Tourism.
There is also a significant ripple affect that goes beyond the killing of one famous lion. Cecil’s death will most likely lead to the loss of an entire generation.
According to Blessing Munyenyiwa, a former safari guide and now owner of Love For Africa in Zimbabwe, when a dominant male lion is killed, a new lion will take over his territory. Typically the first order of business is to kill the cubs of their predecessor so they can create their own genetic offspring. When Cecil was killed it was the equivalent of a death sentence for his cubs and mothers who will fight to protect them.
Unfortunately, the trophy hunting and poaching epidemic goes far beyond lions. Tens of thousands of elephants and hundreds of rhinos are killed illegally each year. At this rate, the only place you’ll be able to see these amazing animals in the next decade will be in a zoo. It’s an alarming issue.
What’s the best way I can help?
If Africa has been on your bucket list, the best thing you can to do to help thwart the loss of endangered species is also the most enjoyable – go on a safari.
“Tourism contributes close to 15% of our gross domestic product in Zimbabwe,” said Mzembi. “Every time someone goes on safari they are helping to fund our anti-poaching and conservation efforts to avoid losing another Cecil.”
In addition to the extra conservation funds generated through tourism, there is the tremendous benefit of having more activity in the national parks. Think of it as an extensive neighborhood watch program covering thousands of acres of pristine wilderness. When travelers with cameras move in, poachers feel the pressure to move out.
Should I be upset with hunters?
This emotionally charged conversation has created some raw tension between conservationists and hunters. According to Jim Bendt, CEO of Minneapolis based Pique Travel Design there is a common ground that can help bridge the divide.
“Living in the Midwest, hunting is akin to a national pastime,” says Bendt. “However, the hunters I know are conservationists at heart. Most share the same outrage and disgust over Cecil’s illegal killing. I’ve sent many hunters on photo safaris that gladly choose a camera over a gun. The thrill is watching nature unfold in front of your eyes. Not only did they have a trip of a lifetime but they came home with a new appreciation for the fragile habitat in Africa.”
To help support future conservation efforts in Africa, Pique Travel Design (855-515-TRIP) recently announced they will donate $300 of each photographic safari towards the purchase of radio collars and conservation research.
Can’t make it to Africa for a safari?
There are other ways you can contribute from the comfort of your home:
Contact your legislator. It’s estimated that 60% of lions killed for sport in Africa are imported to the U.S. as trophies. Legislation in the U.S. could have a big impact if imports are banned like they are in countries such as Australia. A current bill is being introduced in Washington. Voice your support by contacting your local representative.
Make a donation. There are many worthy causes in Africa. If you don’t have time to look into the options here are a few reputable ones to consider:
- WildCRU: Help support the group who was studying Cecil and their efforts throughout Southern Africa.
- National Geographic Big Cats Initiative: Led by Dereck Joubert creator of the 2011 film The Last Lions.
- WildAid: Their mission is to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetime.
Can the next Cecil be saved through these collective efforts? We won’t know unless we try. According to Tourism Minister Mzembi “The best man is the man who plants a tree under whose shade he might never sit. The conservation seeds we are planting today will benefit the generations to come.”