Poorest of People Caught in Anti-Hunting Crossfire

In March 2011, a coalition of animal welfare groups opposed to the hunting of African lions petitioned the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for protection of this lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. FWS responded this week by proposing to list African lions as “threatened” – not the “endangered” status sought by the groups. Still, the groups claim success. It is evident that the sought-after listing is more about stopping the hunting of African lions and less about lion conservation after all.

Unfortunately those who stand to be most impacted by the listing aren’t rich American hunters seeking a trophy, but the some of the poorest people on the planet who live with Africa’s 30,000-40,000 lions on a daily basis. Since this is a proposal for animal conservation, the human equation is largely ignored – with the exception that the proposal notes the continued increase in Africa’s human population further endangers these iconic cats.

Three major factors largely ignored in the discussion are:

• African people have to eat to survive;

• African people rely on their close association with their livestock and wild animals to feed their families;

• African lions kill not only thousands of livestock, but hundreds of African people, each and every year.

Instead, headlines in American media report of the “Last-Ditch Effort to Save Remaining African Lions” and the need for action “Protecting the African Lion From Trophy Hunters.”

Here’s a list of the groups authoring the petition for endangered status:

• International Fund for Animal Welfare,

• Humane Society of the United States

• Humane Society International,

• Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA

• Defenders of Wildlife, and the

• Fund for Animals.

These are not organizations devoted to spending a large portion of their revenues on the ground in Africa to alleviate conflicts between humans and lions. A major motivation for the proposal is the desire to stop trophy hunting of African lions, which the FWS proposal will not do. But what the FWS proposal may do is further jeopardize the already dire future of the poorest residents of Africa.

Single-species protection efforts rarely (if ever) address the core issues of large carnivore conservation – human wellbeing, and in the case of Africa, alleviation of poverty. “The impact of conservation policies on human wellbeing is critical to the integration of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation,” according to a 2012 paper in Biological Conservation. “Conservation and provision of livelihoods should therefore go hand-in-hand.”

Elephants in India kill people every day. African lions kill more than 100 people each year in southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique alone. People killed in these human-wildlife conflicts are generally from “the weaker socioeconomic sections of society” – the rural poor.

Conservation policies often have the heaviest impacts on the poorest of people, and when there are human-wildlife conflicts such as loss of one cow, it aggravates a family’s existing poverty. Studies have shown that crop-raiding by wild animals in Africa frequently results in a reduction of the overall food supply available to a family. That often means that mothers will eat less to provide nourishment for their children, resulting in her diminished health. Family members become anemic, and people die from lack of sufficient nutrition. If a family member is attacked and killed by a wild animal, and that person is an adult wage-earner, this further threatens the entire family’s livelihood, well being, and potential survival.

In Africa, if an adult male is lucky enough to have an outside job that generates income in a subsistence-based economy, that male wage-earner will spend his days at a paying job, and stand guard over his crops or livestock at night. That means that daytime guarding is conducted by children who are therefore not attending school to better their futures. Many of these daytime guards are killed by predators that hunt during daylight hours: African lions.

To some, the impact of human-wildlife conflicts may seem small on a national or global scale, but “but they give rise to exponentially high costs for the affected individuals and families, many of whom are amongst the least privileged people in the world,” according to the Biological Conservation paper.

The listing of a species as threatened or endangered often leads to the setting aside of more lands to protect that species. When more land is set aside for wildlife conservation, traditional human use such as hunting and livestock grazing are forbidden or restricted. Subsistence livestock producers, or people who depend on bushmeat for nutrition, thus lose use of traditional resources and land. This global trend has resulted in a new class of people aptly termed Conservation Refugees. Google it.

The reliance on bushmeat in Africa includes everything from rats to elephants, and from subsistence use, to providing meat for the urban marketplace. A paper in a 2006 issue of Conservation Biology (“Hunting for Consensus: Reconciling Bushmeat Harvest, Conservation and Development Policy in West and Central Africa”) notes: “Where bushmeat markets are booming, poor rural communities are often mining their wildlife resources to subsidize the protein consumption costs of urban families. The failure of development to provide growing urban populations with secure livelihoods and sustainable sources of animal protein are resulting in overharvesting of wildlife in rural areas and decreased livelihood security of poor rural families who are dependent on a dwindling wildlife resource. Bushmeat harvest is more a survival strategy than a development strategy. The places where species are threatened pinpoint places where development policies have failed, and the future of the rural poor is likely to be threatened as well.”

Those advocating for switching subsistence economies toward ecotourism at least acknowledge the need for human economic viability, but have failed to find an alternative that actually works. Ecotourism is often touted as alternative, but few people impacted by wildlife conflicts receive benefit from such schemes. In one recent study in Africa, only 17% of families were associated with ecotourism, but 65% lost livestock to lions. Other programs offer compensation for certain (proven) losses, but the time and effort required to seek such compensation – especially in poor countries where fraud is rampant – is often too much for the rural poor. Poor and illiterate people lacking social capital are not likely to seek compensation for their losses to wild animals.

We all want African lions to thrive well in the long term. But unless we actually begin to address the core issues involved in human-wildlife conflicts, we’ll adopt policies much as this one, meant to harm rich American hunters traveling to do something many find distasteful (hunting lions as trophies), but the resulting impact may be the death of more of Africa’s poorest people. Until we adopt a new approach, the cost of conservation will continue to be disproportionately high for rural people to bear. For a moral people, the loss of human life should be at least as important as wildlife conservation.


  1. Yes, a great post indeed, Cat. And I don't think any of it is WRONG, but I'd like to add some different perspectives, just to ruminate on the subject. First–just WHAT a seemingly unsolvable problem this is–co-existing with large, dangerous and often destructive predators! At least if, as humans, we expect PERMANENT solutions in only OUR favor. And with burgeoning human populations, this is only going to get worse. Are we to loose the very heart and spirit of wild places–the last of the mega-predators? I feel ONLY if we humans somehow, someway, finally manage to control our numbers will this be feasible. Of course overpopulation of humans is the source of MOST of the planet's problems right now……I JUST finished reading a GREAT novel by a Chinese author about the role and perceptions of wolves by Mongol nomads in Northern China, entitled "Wolf Totem", and how–though they fought with and killed wolves regularly, the philosophy of the culture understood that, contradictory as it seemed, they NEEDED the wolves and their influence for their culture to continue, and the "Big Life" of the grasslands to survive(as opposed to the "Little Life" of us individual animals and people)–and how modern, urban Chinese came in with their more efficient wolf eradication methods, and disrupted and eventually destroyed this whole nomadic pastoralist way of life–a sad novel! And this seems to be the same everywhere where humans and large predators are in conflict–either it gets accepted and allowed by the culture, or the predators are eliminated–often with unseen consequences…..to be continued….L. B.

  2. ….and though it seems(IS!!!) horrible that people get nailed (and ET!) by big predators regularly in places where they live in close proximity or among humans, and though many people in such places would gladly eliminate every last dangerous predator(in cultures that DON'T have a philosophy accepting this conflict), where it occurs, there is often a rather apathetic acceptance–just as we accept and don't fret so much about the buhzillions of people killed in auto accidents daily. When I was in poor, rural Africa(Tanzania specifically), I was both surprised at the frequency people regularly got killed by lions and crocodiles specifically(even MORE get killed by vegetarians like hippos, buffalo and elephants, however! Just not EATEN by them!), and the nonchalant manner such incidents were considered by the locals–rather like we say "oh, how terrible" about a car wreck, but then go about our business! Because, well, there is no other option, really! I mean, I was bathing and fishing in the same lake where Gustav the humongo man-eating crocodile(google THAT guy!) of fame was operating at the time(as well as all his relations!), and didn't worry about it that much–though I DID keep my eyes peeled just in case, and relied on my baboon allies to help keep watch for me! Had I been taken, I personally, in no way, would want all crocodiles to have been slaughtered in retaliation. Same feeling in the areas where I was afoot with lions about. But that's just MY view, and I know it isn't shared by many….to be continued….L.B.

  3. …..funny(sort-of) story–a 3rd generation Greek farmer in Tanzania I met(gawd, this fellow was chockerblock FULL of great African tales!), was THRILLED one day when I met him, as a LION had been prowling and roaring about his farm for several days–this was on the outskirts of a huge modern metropolis, the capitol city Dar Es Salaam, where lions were rarely reported anymore. He had huge problems ever harvesting any of his crops–local people would slip in and strip his fields at night–he bordered on bankruptcy continuously(though no doubt the poverty stricken people stealing his crops were in even more dire straits). And though he expected to lose some livestock to this lion(since there were zero large wild ungulates left in the area), he considered it a reasonable sacrifice for the crops he'd harvest that year, the local people terrified to go out at night with a lion prowling about! So, all kinds of complicated perspectives involved…….to be continued…..L.B.

  4. ….and the whole trophy hunting deal–though I personally loath killing any animal unless one needs it to eat, or one is protecting one's self or livelihood(and even then I am sorry it occurs!), I would not begin to refute that trophy hunting most assuredly does give wildlife value, and produce revenue(LOTS!) for some of the locals, and ironically(ironic to AR's) some level of protection for wild game and their habitats. Yet, compared with Eco-tourism, it can be rather "half-a-dozen-of-one, six-of-the-other" sort of a deal–as supporting the privilege of rich foreigners to come and shoot for sport, entails suppressing local people hunting to EAT! Local subsistence folk referred to as "poachers"! I was ever in sympathy for local hungry people killing meat to feed their families(I could NEVER rat on someone for that!), but had they been caught in sport hunting areas, they would have been punished every bit as severely as in sanctuaries. Some local people directly employed by the hunting or eco-tourism do benefit, the majority just don't. But what's the solution? I ponder this constantly, and cannot think of a reasonable solution for everyone. And unless we(or Nature) reduces/slows/stops our population growth, I don't think there will be a workable one. And in the end, we will lose the wild animals and wild places, if humans must ALWAYS take precedence. It looks like African lions are well on their way to what wild tiger status is now….L. B.

  5. Lane,
    Good to see your ruminations! I know it's a complicated issue, but as I indicated in the post, focusing conservation efforts on a single species tends to lead to failed policies unless we address the human dimension. Most of the places we've traveled are places where people live with large predators, and, as you indicate, they (and I) believe that large predators are a necessary component to complete ecosystems. Our failure is in making single-species plans, ignoring those other necessary components – including mankind.

  6. ….and another observation–the sport/trophy hunting in Africa, where huge tracts of wild habitat are preserved for the game animals, and how a rich foreigner can come and shoot a monster kudu and all manner of other "trophies" legally, but if a local tribesman snares a frikkin' dik-dik and gets caught, he'll be imprisoned, is hauntingly similar to past history in Europe, where the "deer parks" were reserved for royalty, and any peasant caught hunting was likely to lose some appendages, if not their life! Yet, without this brutal protection, most of Europe's wildlife and wild lands would have been completely eradicated. So, what to do? Can one be fair to everyone, AND the animals?…L.B.

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