This week, Vietnam agreed to the rescue and relocation of 1,000 bears who live on bear farms. These Asiatic sun bears are held in deplorable settings and “milked” in extraordinarily inhumane ways for their bile (used in tonics and in traditional Chinese medicine). The shut-down of this industry is a big moment in the global campaign to protect these predators, and we salute the Vietnamese government and also Animals Asia Foundation, which drove the outcome. We hope this policy advance creates more pressure on China to replicate the policy.
In Africa, on the other hand, there’s jarring news on the treatment of predators. There’s been an eerily familiar slaying in Zimbabwe: a trophy hunter shot and killed Xanda the lion, whose primary range consisted of a portion of Hwange National Park. Xanda was the son of Cecil, who was also killed two summers ago after a hunting guide lured him outside of Hwange as a set-up for his fee-paying client.
Xanda was four years old when Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer shot Cecil with an arrow, wounding him and allowing him to suffer through the night before finishing him with a second shot approximately 10 hours later. No one knew what would become of Cecil’s progeny, since trophy hunting disrupts social relationships among family members. Lions live in communities where males sometimes work together to protect their mates and cubs; when a dominant male is lost, new male coalitions may seize the moment and try to take over prides. When they succeed, they are known to kill the cubs to ensure the females continue only their lineage. Xanda survived the loss of his father and grew into a mature male who mated and had cubs of his own.
The professional hunter who led his client to kill Xanda handed over his collar to Oxford University biologists, who were tracking Xanda. His death has the potential to disrupt the pride again. What will become of Xanda’s cubs, Cecil’s grandchildren? Will they, too, share the same fate as their father and their grandfather?
The scientists at Oxford University, who have been studying the lions in Hwange for decades, have data to show that lion hunting is not sustainable in the Hwange area, and have pressed for lower hunting quotas and, more recently, a no-hunting buffer zone, around the park. The scientists’ data reveal that trophy hunters are exploiting the lions who live most of their lives in the park. They lure the lions from the park, baiting them with prey species who are strung up in trees as a setup for the kill.
Treating our national parks as incubators for trophy animals is also happening in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is aligned with state fish and wildlife officials in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, and with the trophy hunting lobby to delist grizzlies so that hunters can shoot them outside of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. And a recent study in and around the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve showed massive mortality among wolves who spent most of their time in the preserve but then occasionally wandered outside, where they were shot or trapped. Conversely, a study of wolves in the United States, in Denali and Yellowstone national parks, found that sightings of wolves increased significantly in the years that trapping and hunting buffer zones were created around Denali and when no hunting was permitted in Wyoming.
Throughout all of Africa, perhaps as few as 20,000 lions survive – their number halved in the last two decades. Trophy hunting is, without question, one of the greatest threats to lions. Most lion trophy hunters are American and until last year, these Americans imported an average of nearly 600 lions a year into the United States. That stopped when, in response to a petition from The HSUS and Humane Society International to list the lions under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) prohibited lion trophy imports, including imports from Zimbabwe. Now the USFWS may be buckling to Safari Club International, which is clamoring to resume such imports. Our best tribute to Xanda right now would be to ensure that we keep this ban in place. American trophy hunters should create no more mayhem, and must stop shooting lions as a headhunting exercise, including lions living in the supposed, protected confines of national parks.