Sustainable Sport Hunting
Legal, managed sport hunting is a fact of life in Africa that conservationists have to confront. Sport hunting can be a conservation tool if revenues from the harvest are paid directly to local communities or are invested in conservation management. In this way, hunting provides a tangible benefit from living with wildlife. More than half the sport hunting clients coming from the USA. The Ministry of Tourism supports sport hunting inside the protected area in nine hunting concessions as a way to generate income (about $400 000 per year) for conservation management in Niassa Reserve. In addition, according to Mozambican law, 20% of the trophy and concession fees are redistributed to communities to encourage conservation.
Without regulation or enforcement, sport hunting of large carnivores could easily undo our conservation efforts, but through collaboration with sport hunters and the management authority we can ensure that it is sustainable.
We monitored the age of all lion and leopard trophies in Niassa for the first time in 2004. We discovered that 75 percent of the lions taken as trophies were under six years of age (ages were determined based on tooth wear). Recent peer-reviewed research in Tanzania and Zimbabwe has shown that sport hunting of male lions can be sustainable if those taken as trophies are at least six years old. These are generally not pride males and have already raised a litter of cubs. This prevents a new male coming into a pride and killing the cubs (infanticide).
In 2006 we developed an innovative trophy monitoring and quota-setting system that enforces a six-year age minimum for all lion trophies in Niassa. It offers incentives for compliance and disincentives for violations. In a bold move, the management authority of Niassa, SRN, and all the sport hunting operators active in Niassa at the time, accepted our proposal. Now, the SRN lion regulations and Niassa Lion Points System for assigning quotas have been implemented. In 2008, Niassa Reserve won the CIC Markhor Award in part because of this innovative Lion Points System and attendant regulations.
We continue to collaborate with sport hunting operators and SRN by monitoring and aging all lion and leopard trophies taken in Niassa each year. The ages of the lions taken determines the quota set by the Management Authority for each hunting block in the next season. Quotas are decreased when lions are killed that are underage. In addition to this, we collect detailed information -- blood samples, measurements, GPS coordinates of where they are shot, and photographs -- from all carnivore trophies regardless of age. Our data analysis in collaboration with Panthera shows conclusively that mane development and increased nose pigmentation are related to tooth wear -- a reliable signifier of age. We used this research to help sport hunters age lions visually and developed a pamphlet to for field use. We also give annual presentations to all sport hunting operators to discuss our results.
As a result of these efforts, the number of underage lion trophies taken in Niassa has dropped dramatically, from 75 percent to less than 20 percent, and total annual off-take has decreased from 11 lions to 6 – 8 lions per year despite an increase in the number of concessions. No lions under the age of four years have been killed for sport since 2006, and sport hunting of lions in Niassa is currently considered sustainable with minimal effect on local lion population dynamics.
We are still working to develop ways to ensure that leopard sport hunting is sustainable. We commend professional hunters, Niassa operators, and SRN for their commitment to sustainable lion hunting. However it has to be recognized that the mortality of lions from sport hunting is additive to mortality from retaliatory hunts and snaring, and the total mortality combined is unlikely to be sustainable at present.