Cecil Researcher Calls For Lion Hunting Ban

David Bowden, Senior Correspondent, in Southern Africa

The researcher who studied Cecil the lion for most of his life says lion hunting should be banned completely.

Brent Stapelkamp, who leads the Hwange lion project, says big game hunting of other species is essential to conserve wildlife areas, but lions are too rare to be killed for trophies.

Mr Stapelkamp said no amount of money can act as compensation for losing such a creature, adding: "My personal feeling is lion hunting shouldn't exist. They're too rare, they're too sensitive, and the repercussions felt after that hunt far exceed anything in any other species."

Africa's big game is unique and spellbinding – with tourists from around the world paying many millions of pounds to see it up close.

However, a tiny fraction of those visitors want more than just pictures and memories of their safari, and are prepared to pay huge amounts of money to kill an animal and take it home as a trophy.

Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer paid around £35,000 to hunt and kill Zimbabwe's most famous animal, Cecil the lion, in what would have been much-needed revenue for a country with a struggling economy.

Africa's wildlife is a highly saleable commodity in all its forms, and hunting is too valuable to many countries for it to stop. It has been reported that trophy killing in Southern Africa brings in up to $1bn (£650m) a year.

Conservationist Trevor Lane was a professional hunter for almost a decade, and says without the money it generates most wildlife would be wiped out by local farmers.

In Zimbabwe's national parks, hunting is illegal – but there are few fences to keep the animals on safe ground.

Bordering the parks are tracts of private land where, with the right paperwork, killing game is just business.

Cecil and his pride brother Jericho were both fitted with radio collars, but Cecil was lured out of Hwange National Park to his death, and the latest tracking data from Jericho shows he too has strayed into dangerous territory.

For many in the safari industry, hunting and conservation are two sides of the same coin, with the tens of thousands of pounds to kill just one trophy animal helping to pay for the preservation of many other less glamorous creatures in the African Bush.

And for the people who live and make their living here, there is little room for sentimentality about using hunting to pay the bills.

In short: if you're prepared to pay, there isn't much you can't track kill and mount… however majestic.