Are Lion Trophy Hunting Quotas Based on Science?


The European Union’s (EU’s) Scientific Review Group (SRG) was due to meet on the 15 December 2015 to decide if the lion Trophy Hunting quotas proposed by Zambia and the United Republic of Tanzania (Tanzania) are sustainable. If not, should the EU prohibit imports of these trophies into the EU as a deterrent against unsustainable hunting practices?

Well, we shall soon find out what the EU thinks, based on the SRG’s report, when the EU’s announcement  is duly made. Of course, Member States can adopt their own policies regardless (such as the United Kingdom).

Setting Lion Trophy Hunting Quotas


However, first it must be established how such hunting quotas are set and the data used.

The SRG’s deliberations on this issue have been based on an EU study that was commissioned and reported in August 2015(1). This report did not make recommendations, but summarised the available data upon which an EU decision could be based. The report highlights for Tanzania and Zambia can be summarised as follows (Table 1):

Table 1 – Summary of Panthera Leo Population Trend

Country 1993 Est. (1) 2014 Est. (1) % Change

1993 – 2014

Current Government Guesstimate


EU Assessment (2015) approx. Expected Government Quota


Possible Quota % of Remaining Population


Tanzania 1787 (2) 608


-66% 16,800 (3) 608 (2) 250 – 300 (2014 Quota)

“Offtake” (3)

165 (2008)

42 (2014)



(but could be much higher as actual 2015 total  population unknown)

Zambia 139 100 -28% 1,500 – 2,500 (4)


307   – 465 (5) 40


 40 %

(based on EU population assessment, but actual 2015   total population unknown)


  1. IUCN Red List Information
  2. Based on five monitored sub-populations (Ngorongoro Crater, Katavi, Matambwe (Selous GR), Serengeti and Tarangire) – Noted by Bauer et al. (2015) “that these study subpopulations do not necessarily represent total site populations.”
  3. The Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, chose to cite to UNEP-WCMC a 2006 (Ikanda and Packer) estimate of total population of 17,564, but the Tanzanian Wildlife Division ‘accepted’ the estimate of 16,800 (Mésocina et al., 2010). So, it is assumed that this latter ‘estimate’ is the Tanzanian Government’s current ‘belief.’ This ‘belief’ is also based, in-part on “operators” with a vested interest in setting lion population estimates and “offtake” quotas high. The actual “offtake” cited by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism to UNEP-WCMC, 2015, was “168 in 2008” and “42 in 2014” the reduction “possibly” due to continued population declines (Lindsey et al., 2103; Nelson et al., 2013).
  4. The Zambian Government/Authorities failed to reply to UNEP-WCMC on how they had arrived at their ‘estimates,’ but it should be noted that quotas are based, in-part on operators’ recommendations – not verifiable science, but on “operators” with a vested interest in setting lion population estimates and “offtake” quotas high.
  5. The EU assessment of Zambia’s lion population in Kafue (Midlane et al., 2015), South Luangwa (Rosenblatt et al., 2014) and Lower Zambezi (Becker et al., 2013).



Table 2 – Inferred Lion Population Trend – Census Data 1993 – 2014 in Five Monitored Lion Sub-Populations in Tanzania (Bauer et al., 2015)

Sample Subpopulation Estimated Lions (1993) Estimated Lions (2014) % Change
Ngorongoro Crater 61 55 -10%
Katavi 1118 0 -100%
Matambwe (Selous GR) 124 98 -21%
Serengati 232 314 +35%
Tarangire 252 141 -44%
Total 1787 608 -66%

In Katavi, Tanzania the estimated lion numbers were recorded as zero in 2014, from a population of 1,118 in 1993. It should be noted, that from 2010, 41 adult males (less than five years old) had been “harvested” for trophies in Katavi. Could this excessive Trophy Hunting of young male lions have been the end of the Katavi sub-population?

Trophy Hunting was reported to have contributed to population declines outside of (and within some) protected areas of Tanzania (Lindset et al., 2013) and was considered by Packer et al., 2011 to pose the greatest threat to the populations in Trophy Hunting areas.”

In 2011, significant declines in four out of seven hunting areas were recorded (Packer et al., 2011), concluding that the hunting quotas set at the time of 500 lions was unsustainable and had caused a skew in the sex ratio in the remaining sub-populations.

In addition, Mésocina et al. (2010) noted that the Trophy Hunting regime incentivised the killing of younger male lions. Furthermore, a centralised system of collective hunting fees did not give local communities an incentive to conserve wildlife (Lindey et al., 2012), but was used to generate government income and encouraged higher quotas than are sustainable (Nelson et al. 2013).

Other threats to the lion population are significant – almost 200 lions a year were reported killed in retaliation for livestock losses (500 per year) due to lion attacks. Poisoning of lions (the Maasai killed approximately 7.5% of the lion population annually – Litchfield, 2009), habitat loss and prey declines were also reported as growing threats to lion populations in Tanzania. There was also evidence to support an increase in the illegal killing of lions, potentially to fulfil the growing trade in lion bones to Asia from Tanzanian lions.

No one seems to have a ‘scientific’ answer to the question of how many actual lions exist within Tanzania, but the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources wishes to be optimistic (or deluded?) that the 66% decline in lion populations in the five monitored sub-populations is not representative of the entire Tanzanian population. Hence, the Tanzanian Wildlife Division wishes to ‘accept’ the 2010 estimate of 16,800 (Mésocina et al., 2010) as today’s current Tanzanian lion population. Has the Trophy Hunting issues of biased incentives and excessive hunting quotas been addressed? There will be new age-based quotas (apparently). But of course, the age of any given trophy lion can only really be assessed once the hunter has shot it, it’s hard to be that accurate in regards to the target’s age before-hand.



In 2002, the lion population in Zambia was estimated at between 1,500 (Bauer and Van de Merwe, 2004) to 3,199 (Chardonnet, 2002), which looks like a very wide margin of error. The IUCN reported in 2006, that the estimate ranged from 800 to 1980 lions (with some prides and sub-populations moving between national boarders). The accuracy of this IUCN assessment was disputed at the time by LionAid, and others as possibly “optimistic.

Table 3 – Estimated Lion Population in Kafue, South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi

Site Estimated Lion Population Size Year (Source)
Kafue 264 (204 – 325) 2011 (Midlane et al., 2015)
South Luangwa 94 (92 – 106) 2012 (Rosenblatt et al., 2014)
Lower Zambezi 11 – 34 2009 (Becker et al., 2013)

It was noted that male lion depletion in the parks listed at Table 3 were due to the mortality of lions from Trophy Hunting and wire snares, with hunters using bait along park boarders (Becker et al., 2013).

On 10th January 2013, a moratorium on safari hunting was imposed across 19 hunting blocks, with a recommendation to maintain the ban until at least 2016 to allow populations to recover (Midlane, 2013 and Rosenblatt et al., 2014).

Well, the current Zambian Government wants to reintroduce lion trophy quotas for 2016/17, with the ban lifted on 10 May 2015 (despite opposition voiced in the relevant Parliamentary debate). Fixed quotas of 60%, regardless of “offtake” (which encourages over-hunting) seems to be the Zambians Government’s proposed approach again, with the actual concession quota (74 in 2012) based on a very optimistic and unsubstantiated estimate of a total population of 1,500 to 2,500 lions (no evidence was provided to UNEP-WCMC to support this optimistic assessment. The IUCN has a 2014 estimate of approximately 510 lions).

Zambia currently has no minimum age of “offtake” known to be stipulated in its hunting laws and guidelines. So the hunting and killing of male lions of any age will have a potentially devastating effect on individual pride and sub-population stability.

The real fear is, the “offtake” of 40 plus male lions could completely decimate the entire population if the ‘real’ total lion population in country is closer to 500 lions, rather than the Zambian Government’s optimistic ‘belief’ of up to 2,500!

Is Zambia’s approach responsible, ‘legal’ hunting that has any potential benefit for conservation? Regardless of Zambia’s lack of evidence to support the lifting of the safari hunting moratorium for the 2016/17 season, will this potential lack of ‘conservation’ concern the average Trophy Hunter, or Hunting Association such as Safari Club International? I suspect they will claim it’s ‘legal,’ ‘responsible’ and ‘conservation’- anyone that objects must be an “ignorant-anti.”

All the EU SRG can do in response to such absurdity (and any individual country, such as France and Australia have done) is to recommend the banning of the import of lion trophies from Zambia.



This decline in Tanzania and Zambia site lion populations must be compared with the plight of Panthera Leo as a species(2,) – worse case, a possible 80% decline since 1980, or a 95.6% decline since 1940.

1900 – up to 1 million

1940s – 450,000

1980s – 100,000

1990s – 50,000

2015 – as few as 20,000 officially classed as ‘Vulnerable’ with the West African population ‘Critically Endangered(3).’

What event or action on the near horizon is going to prevent the further decline of the African lion population as a whole? Will the potential banning of lion trophy imports from Zambia and/or Tanzania deter any Trophy Hunter taking their ‘legal’ opportunity? I doubt it.

Does the hunters’ claim that they are the only ones that can responsibly conserve any species stack-up, when excessive Trophy Hunting is cited as a cause of population decline in Tanzania and Zambia? Even the hunter must see that Trophy Hunting is not an answer to every question ‘real’ conservationist level at them.

Based on IUCN 2015 Red List information, the current data on monitored sub-populations across all Range States was summarised in the report(1) as follows:

Table 4 – Overview of Sub-population Numbers (IUCN 2015 Assessment)

Country 1993 Est. (1) 2014 Est. (1) % Change

1993 – 2014

Benin 25 108 +332% Also see Burkina Faso.
Botswana 2235 1663 -26% 3 pop. considered, 1 declined.
Burkina Faso 76 63 -17% 1 pop. considered, overlapping with Benin and Niger.
Cameroon 322 220 -32% 2 pop. considered, 2 declined.
Central African Republic
Mozambique 339 1235 +264% 1 pop. considered.
Namibia 514 725 +41% 3 pop. considered, 1 declined.
South Africa 1946 2074 +7% 10 pop. considered, 1 declined.
South Sudan
Sudan (prior to secession of S Sudan)
Tanzania 1787 608 -66% 5 pop. considered, 4 declined.
Zambia 139 100 -28% 1 pop. considered.
Zimbabwe 52 703 +1252% 5 pop. considered.

What is striking is that this data (Table 4) is based on only sample sub-populations. This is the best data available, for anyone to make life/death decisions over the future fate of Leo Panthera. The data is incomplete, outdated at times and at best ‘sketchy.’

There are some positive percentage increases shown, for example +1,252% reported in Zimbabwe. But as ever, statistics can be misleading. Does a population estimate of 703 in Zimbabwe mean the sub-population there is beyond threat from poaching, ‘conflict’ with livestock and unsustainable hunting? No, it does not.

Do all the positive population rise percentages mean the species is safe/saved? No it does not. The data is incomplete, outdated and ‘sketchy.’ The Table 4 data must be compared against the overall and acknowledged decline of the species as whole, by as much as 80% since 1980. At this crisis point, should there not be more of a holistic, all-encompassing approach to the species’, Leo Panthera’s management, not a country by country approach based on Range State’s own self-assessment and self-interest?

Would uplisting the African lion to CITES Appendix I help?

The assessment made in country by governments and authorities setting Trophy Hunting quotas in many cases, is being based on this ‘sketchy’ data, backed up by local communities views and hunting operators’ recommendations (when clearly the hunting operator potentially has a biased, vested interest in such quota setting). This hardly appears a scientific, transparent approach dedicated to ‘conservation’ – at best, more of a guesstimate based on desired income.

To me, the conservation of the victim species appears to be the last consideration in mind under the current ‘regime.’

  • Can more be done to reduce the threats from livestock conflict, habitat loss and poaching? Of course, but that means governments in country doing more to balance and mitigate the livestock conflict and habitat loss, not leaving enforcement to others, NGOs and charities.
  • Can poaching be reduced? Reducing the demand side for lion bones and body parts is the key. Increasing supply to meet a nonsensical demand is not the answer, farming rhino, or tolerating the by-product of ‘canned’ lion hunting only increases demand and sends the tacit message to poachers that it’s alright to also seek to ‘cash-in.’ Funding is required for anti-poaching organisation/rangers and incentives for poachers to find an alternative lifestyle/income too.
  • Can the hunting industry do more to help and stop pretending that “Trophy Hunting is the only answer in every situation, in every country for every threatened species?” Of course.
  • Can an independent, scientific, all-encompassing census of Leo Panthera’s total population across all Range States act as a tool for everyone to base judgments on? Of course, but it would take money, time, dedication and co-operation from all concerned parties. But to help save a precious, iconic species it would of course be worth it.
  • Can all of the above be applied to the many other species so threatened? Of course.

Can all of the above be achieved for Panthera Leo (and others) before it is too late………………?



  1. Review of Panthera leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,ited Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,” UNEP-WCMC Technical Report, August 2015
  2. The Born Free Foundation
  3. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, African Lion, published 2015

0 thoughts on “Are Lion Trophy Hunting Quotas Based on Science?

  • Patricia Salazar Luna

    (December 18, 2015 - 11:31 am)

    This is inhumane. It would be interesting to set this kind of quotas on behalf of animals to kill people!

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