There are some humans who enjoy hunting animals for sport. Now, most settle on easily accessed prey like ducks or deer. Others go after more larger and rarer ones, like lions. Sometimes that hunt does not go who they want it and that is what happened to one suspected poacher.
Last week Friday, a male body was found in the Ingwelala Private Nature Reserve, a private game reserve near Kruger National Park, in South Africa.
Authorities suspect that the body was a poacher that was mauled by a pride of lions. While much of the body was already eaten, there was evidence of him being a poacher as a hunting rifle and ammunition was found near him. He may have also been trespassing on the private reserve.
It is not entirely clear that he was here to poach the lions as the area is considered heavy lion territory by locals and he could have gotten caught unexpectedly by them. The area is usually known for rhino poaching because it is a more lucrative business than lion poaching.
With many animals, including lions, listed as vulnerable or endangered by the IUCN red list, demand for their body parts continues to thrive and encourages more poachers to go after them. This places them in the position of becoming hunted themselves as they try to take down large predators.
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Poaching is the unfortunate result of a demand for exotic animals and their body parts. Africa stands at the center of poaching as many of its native species are hunted down for their bones, meat, ivory, and other resources deemed special by individuals. By the end of last year up to 35,000 elephants were killed for their tusks, a prized item by many.
As poaching continues, it slowly drives many animals to become endangered and even extinct. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, there are less than 1,000 mountain gorillas in Africa and lions have gone extinct in seven countries.
Despite no supporting evidence, many use the items from rhinos for cures to things like cancer, impotence, and other ailments. While many in western countries would balk at this, wealthy individuals in these countries also contribute to the demand for these items and local remedies, like deer antlers for curing impotence.
As more countries implement the ivory ban to curb poaching of rhinos and elephants, they are helping to save these animals. But, there are many other animals being poached that also needs additional protection.
A year ago, three lions were decapitated in Tzaneen Lion and Predator Park, South Africa. Authorities believe that their body parts had been stolen and sold in Mozambique to traditional medicine practitioners. Poachers broke through the fencing around the park and fed lions poisoned meats before removing their heads and paws.
Besides use for traditional medicine, lions are also hunted for sport. According to IUCN, about 600 lions are killed legally by tourist hunters, which represents about 2% of the total lion population lost annually. The most infamous lion hunt in recent memory would the death of Cecil, who was killed by an American dentist. American tourists were responsible for 64% of African lions killed for sport.
As places like China begins to grow more economically, they have more disposable income and more interest in spending that income. There has been a noticeable rise in demand from East Asia for lion bones because of their rarity.
In 2008, 50 lion skeletons were exported from South Africa. In 2011, that number jumped to 573. In 2017, South Africa announced that they would export about 800 lion skeletons to address the demand for lion bones. Authorities in South Africa believe that by exporting them legally, they can reduce the demand for these bones through illegal means.
According to the AWF, lion populations have decreased by 43% in the last 21 years. Poaching and legal hunting contribute to this continued loss as well as the loss of natural lion habitats, which puts it into contact with farmers.
With about 32,000 lions remaining today, these continued losses are causing them to slowly die out. That means that we must continue and strengthen our conservation efforts in order to keep lions from going extinct.
One area that the AWF is working on improving is lion-farmer relations. As lions lose their habitats, they move closer to farms and farmers retaliate to protect their livestock. AWF is implementing programs to work with local communities to teach them about the importance and value of lions as well as how to protect their livestock from becoming lion food.
Education programs are a useful tool to help dispel myths and misconceptions about lions as a way to improve the view of lions as more than a danger or a hypothetical cure. These programs would help to reduce the demand for poaching, an area that continues to grow.
Other steps being taken to help reduce lion deaths include making hunting illegal, which would reduce the number of hunting tourists that are killing lions. Like China’s ivory ban, the increase in lion bone demand should prompt a similar ban on these items.
Right now the decline of lions continues and conservationists worry that they may end up extinct by 2050. Despite stories like this about the lion hunting a hunter, the risk is worth the reward and being killed by a lion is a minor deterrent. This means that we must continue our efforts to save these species as we work towards helping other endangered species.
From education to enforcing laws, there are many options we can take. As time goes on, it will be crucial to see how these plans are working to reduce lion deaths so that we can make changes on different governing levels to optimize these plans.