Lion Killers, Trophy Hunters and Animal Profiteers – by Garry Marsh

Lion Killers, Trophy Hunters and Animal Profiteers

I’m fortunate to own a classic car. I often look at a website called How Many Left  which informs me of how many cars of the type I own are still on the road. As the numbers fall, my car becomes rarer and more valuable.

This got me thinking. What if we had the same kind of website for animals, birds and all the diverse species on this planet? To inform us how many animal and plant species we still have. Would it make people sit up and think if they knew exactly how many are left? And just like my classic car, as the numbers of animals fall, are they too becoming more valuable as a source of income for those people who market our most precious wildlife to the affluent, murderous trophy hunters?

The hunting & killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe is a truly tragic story. But ironically this story has highlighted the plight of the dwindling lion populations in many parts of Africa.  According to the World Wildlife Fund the number of lions has plummeted by 30% in the last 20 years.

But there are so many other species under threat and some which are probably beyond saving in the wild. The most noticeably is the Giant Panda from China. This creature has been politicised since the time of Chairman Mao. During the cold war, Mao gave pandas away as a sign of diplomatic friendship. But World Resources Institute researcher Kathleen Buckingham, with a team at Oxford University, last year studied China’s recent panda loans and concluded that all were linked to trade.

In recent years China has introduced captive breeding programs under the control of the Chinese government which does very little to address the re-introduction of Giant Pandas back into the wild. According to a report in the Guardian Newspaper, since 1983 only 10 Giant Pandas have been released back into the wild and only 2 are still alive in their natural surroundings.

The destruction of its natural habitat in China means that wild Giant Pandas can no longer survive. China demands huge sums of money for its captive Pandas to be sent on 10 year loans overseas. Edinburgh Zoo pays China £600,000 per year for its pair of Pandas. This is not conservation; it’s a money making scheme for the Chinese Government. This is just as immoral as the trophy hunters killing endangered species on the plains of Africa. Yet this exploitation goes largely unnoticed and unreported.

On their website, the Born Free Organisation states:

Relying on captive populations lulls us into a false sense of security, drawing attention away from threats to wild populations and habitats which, if not protected, could be destroyed leaving no viable location for return. The substantial costs of captive breeding could be used more effectively to protect these wild species and habitats”.

“Many of the high-profile ‘successes’ of captive breeding and reintroduction have involved animals bred at specialised centres not open to the public, rather than in zoos. Is one of the main reasons zoos undertake captive breeding programmes actually nothing to do with conservation? Do they simply provide more animals for the zoo industry?”

The answer is, of course the zoo industry is looking to make profits. Since the introduction of Giant Pandas in 2011, Edinburgh Zoo increased its number of visitors by 4 million in 2 years. But this doesn’t help the estimated 1600 animals remaining in the wilds of China.

If we don’t have a radical rethink on how we protect animals, and not exploit them for profit, then just like the dinosaurs, these creatures will very soon be confined to the history books.