Approval of lion trophy reignites trophy hunting debate

Trophy hunting is a controversial topic with supporters on both sides.

Officials allowed one Orlando hunter to bring the lion he shot in Africa home and now some activists worry a dangerous precedent is set each time this happens.

Documents, first obtained by the center for biological diversity, show the hunter was issued a permit to import the skull, skin, teeth and claws of a lion he hunted in Tanzania.

John Jackson III with Conservation Force, who represents the permit holder, defends this kind of hunting as crucial for conservation efforts in Africa because it ensuresĀ a delicate balance and the survival of various species.

"Most lion habitat is in hunting areas. The prey base is dependent on the habitat, so the hunting operation is crucial," Jackson said. "Most of the lions that exist depend on american hunters or we wouldn't have more than half of the lions."

Jackson is also a member of a panel assembled by the trump administration last year and is tasked with explaining how trophy hunters help conservation.

He's also worked on rhino protection efforts for decades.

Last week, another american hunter represented by Jackson faced backlash after being granted a permit to import a black rhino that he hunted in Namibia.

"The primary threat to the black rhino is poaching and revenue of these hunts goes 100% ...to a trust fund run by the government," Jackson said. "All of that money is spent on conservation to control the poaching."

In Namibia, where the vulnerable rhino population has grown, permits are issued to hunt pre-selected problematic bulls.

Lions are fair game for other reasons.

john jackson/conservation force

"The lion. His primary threat is loss of habitat and loss of prey base and then conflict with community people because a lion is really a ferocious beast," Jackson said. "They're not compatible with people and livestock, so you have different problems and issues and different things that need to be shown to obtain a permit."

But the stringent requirements for trophy imports are not enough to calm concerns at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The CBD's legal director Tanya Sanerib is worried these permits could someday lead to open season on other vulnerable species.

"It signals an opening of the floodgates. Not only for lion trophy imports from Tanzania but also potentially for elephant imports from Tanzania," Sanerib said.

So-called conservation hunting continues to be a source of debate.

"Trophy hunters love to say that they help contribute to anti-poaching efforts and that even just having hunters on the ground helps with that," Sanerib said. "But actually, the opposite has been demonstrated. Having people with guns legally on the ground provides great cover for people who are out there illegally to get ivory and other animal products."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently makes the call on trophy imports, saying the agency makes findings "on an application-by-application basis."

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