Note: Originally published February 23, 2016.
In a bitterly ironic move, the country that banned lion hunting after “Cecil” the lion’s death may have to cull 200 surplus lions. Officials with Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy are trying to move the extra animals to other wildlife areas, but if that fails the lions will be put down—a disservice to the country’s economy, hunters, and the animals themselves.
According to the New Zealand Herald, Bubye is Zimbabwe’s largest wildlife area and home to its highest number of lions—an estimated 500. At one time Bubye welcomed hunters and was able to maintain a healthy lion population. After American dentist Walter Palmer shot a lion outside Hwange National Park in 2015, the area has suffered from what has become known as the “Cecil effect.”
Zimbabwe’s economy and wildlife populations began to suffer immediately after the international uproar over Cecil’s death did. Foreign hunters declined to hunt in the country to avoid the negativity. As the U.S. moved to ban trophy importations and the price of oil continued to drop, hunters from Texas and other American areas refused to make the trip across the Atlantic.
Bubye’s lion population has subsequently gone unmanaged. The predators are decimating antelope herds and throwing the entire area’s ecosystem out of whack.
“I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation,” Blondie Leathem, Bubye’s general manager, said. “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.”
Bubye was created in 1994 by Charles Davy, with fencing placed around 2,000 square miles of former cattle ranch. Since then, the lions and other animal populations within it’s borders have been carefully and extensively managed. Oxford University’s lion research project—the same team that tracked Cecil—called Bubye “a success story.”
Hunting and the funds it generates were key components of that success.
Leathem adamantly said he was not a hunter, but admitted to the Herald that he had no other option but to maintain sustainable hunting to ensure Bubye’s continued viability.