What’s the difference between African lions and the anti-hunting media? The former spends most of its time lying in repose, whereas the latter spends most of its time lying in its prose.
An excellent example of this is the 18 January 2023 Newsweek article, “Cecil the Lion Brothers Now Trophy Hunter’s Prime Target After Pride Exile”, written by Robyn White, Nature Reporter.
To be fair, a lie is a false statement intended to deceive, so possibly this article simply reflects ignorance with no intent to mislead readers.
But, Newsweek claims to be committed to clarifying the most important issues of our time with journalism that is factual, accurate, responsible and fact-checked by the journalist and at least one editor.
This article definitely was not.
Following are multiple illustrations of that irresponsible oversight.
1. Are Humba and Netsai brothers of Cecil?
UNCERTAIN. Based on their ages, they aren’t littermates of Cecil or themselves. And confusion reigns as to their parentage. Supposedly they have different mothers, and various sources report four different potential fathers. Any brotherhood amongst them, therefore, seems most likely to be in a social sense, not genetic.
2. Did they get ousted from their territory by lions dubbed “the Baggage Handlers “?
UNCERTAIN. One photographic lodge claims they are actually PART of the Baggage Handlers, who are supposedly sons of a lion named Bhubesi. Yet another claims one of them is a son of Cecil. So who knows?
3. Are Humba and Netsai just now in imminent danger of being killed by trophy hunters?
NO. This claim has previously been made in posts on several social media platforms and accounts, including those of Cecil the Lion, Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and World Heritage Species (WHS), ranging back to at least October 2020, over two years now.
4. Do trophy hunters lure lions out of Hwange National Park?
NO. An estimated 500 to 700 lions utilize Hwange as PART of their home ranges, meaning they regularly traverse the park’s legal boundaries.
Researchers from Oxford University’s WildCRU, who study these lion populations, state on their website that they’ve explained to countless journalists that the lion prides of Hwange form populations that naturally extend beyond the park boundaries into several countries and that the genetic health of these populations REQUIRES the dispersal and immigration of lions to remain viable.
5. Is trophy hunting the only way lions die outside of park boundaries?
NO. Other sources of lion fatalities are: a tourist train that travels part of the park boundary, local residents who illegally and indiscriminately snare, trap, poison and shoot them as threats to their livestock, lives and livelihoods, depletion of their prey species due to bushmeat poaching, and increasing human populations whose encroachment activities deplete and degrade their required habitats.
6. Are lions fully protected inside the park?
NO. Poaching of wildlife is problematic to varying degrees in all African national parks.
7. Once lions are in hunting concessions, are they truly devoid of protection?
NO. Age-based quotas specify and restrict their legal take. And some hunting outfitters have further pledged not to hunt specific, well-known lions.
Since many critics urge that alternatives to trophy hunting should be sought, here’s one to consider: book a photo safari with a professional hunter to photograph these lions when they range on hunting concessions. Ideally, pay the same amount a hunter would pay to pursue them.
Responsible hunting outfitters also invest in anti-poaching efforts, only hunt prey species at sustainable levels, and give habitat economic value that thwarts its conversion to uses incompatible with wildlife.
And hunting concessions act as important buffer zones to national parks, mitigating the direct effects of human settlements.
Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous hunting operators, just as there are unsavory elements in any business (including photo safaris). But it is unfair to judge any industry entirely on its worst examples.
8. Did Cecil’s family suffer severely from the effects of trophy hunting?
NO. Shortly after he died, Bhubesi, one of his rivals, took over his pride. Despite panicky claims that he would kill all 7 of Cecil’s young cubs, he accepted them instead. Humba and Netsai then displaced Bhubesi in 2018.
In 2020, 5 years after Cecil’s death, 60% more lions were surveyed in the core study area where he lived. Yet, the Humane Society Legal Fund, in conjunction with HSUS and Humane Society International, wrote a letter on 28 September 2021 to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) claiming that hunting on Hwange’s periphery had caused lion populations of the park to decrease and was therefore unsustainable.
Also, interestingly enough, critics of trophy hunting claim that it depletes gene pools, yet many articles memorializing Cecil state that although he is gone, his bloodline lives on.
9. Is trophy hunting simply the practice of killing large game such as lions or elephants?
NO. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) describes it as a type of legal hunting characterized by low off-take volume, hunters paying a high fee to hunt an animal with specific characteristics, and often (but not always) undertaken by hunters from outside the local area. Ideal trophy-hunting programs select animals based on age characteristics, not just size or other preferred traits.
And although international regulations typically prohibit the transport of meat, that does not mean only the inedible “trophy” parts of hunter-killed animals are utilized.
10. Did the Cecil incident remove hunters’ abilities to carry hunting trophies on planes with them?
NO. Hunting trophies must minimally be dipped and packed, as per government regulations, to sterilize them before being exported.
Relevant paperwork must also be certified. Both processes require months, so hunting trophies are shipped as cargo, not as personal luggage.
Therefore, although over 40 airlines did adopt or reaffirm a ban on the shipment of trophies shortly after Cecil died, many of them were irrelevant virtue signaling as they didn’t handle such cargo previously anyway and didn’t service the African continent.
11. Did the Cecil incident lead to listing lions in the US Endangered Species Act, therefore prohibiting the importation of them altogether?
NO. Petitioning to list African lions as threatened began in 2011, four and a half years before Cecil was hunted. In 2014, a rule was proposed to list West African lions as endangered and all other African lions as threatened.
The resulting new restrictions on lion trophy imports in early 2016 only banned the importation of parts from captive-bred lions.
Wild lions of southern and east Africa were declared importable based upon the provision of enhancement findings – evidence showing that lion hunting provided demonstrable conservation benefits to the long-term survival of the species in the wild.
12. Did Jimmy Kimmel’s speech reflect any knowledge of lions, their hunting or their conservation challenges?
NO. It was primarily a name-and-shame attempt. However, in the full version, he stated he was “not against hunting if you are doing it to help keep animal populations healthy”.
The revenue that legal hunting of wild lions generates allows wildlands to remain economically viable as such and funds anti-poaching efforts, thus accomplishing that.
13. Does Rogue Rubin know much about lion hunting?
NO. Her film Lion Spy is about captive-bred lions in South Africa, and its promo materials feature her cuddling with cubs and bedded down or walking with lions.
Thoroughly deceiving her audiences, she conflates these captives with wild lions. Captives, by the way, are exploited not only by trophy hunters but also by the photo and general tourism sectors. And widely denounced for several years now by many in the hunting industry.
In this article, she purports that lion hunting “reinforces man’s dominance over animals and land.” Ironically, her selfies with captive lions themselves better illustrate a dominance over animals.
And all activities that humans engage in show elements of land domination. Particularly conversion of land to sustain our own lives via food production, human habitation, and required infrastructure.
All of these result in a major threat to wildlife — habitat loss. And Rubin, just like all other humans, is complicit in them. Trophy hunting of wild lions requires protecting tracts of wildlands large enough to support lions and their prey.
A land “dominance” that is required for proper conservation.
14. Is Rubin’s claim that hunting lions cannot be considered ethical chase valid?
NO. Elements of fair chase include striving to kill as certain and quickly as possible (high-powered guns), respecting the customs of the locale where the hunting occurs, and obeying all applicable laws and regulations (multiple people on hand).
15. Are Rubin’s other claims about lions true?
NO. Male lions enter puberty and face eviction from their pride when they are 2 or 3 years old. But, they are not typically physically mature enough and behaviorally capable of outcompeting prime, dominant males to take over any pride.
As nomads, all male lions, regardless of age, are more vulnerable to all threats, including being killed by other lions.
Her plea that all African lions should be “left to live and die a natural death in the wild” is unrealistic.
Africans do not universally intrinsically value lions and likely never will. Lions are important, however, to BOTH hunting and photo tourism, as both utilize lions as a revenue source that helps keep the lands they operate on as wildlife habitat.
The major reason why there are now, “so few” lions as compared to historical numbers is loss of habitat, which also increases illegal persecution.
Furthermore, lions do contribute to their ecosystems, not the “ecostructure of the land”, which is not even an ecological term.
16. Is the color of a lion’s mane only important to trophy hunters?
NO. Trophy hunters, trophy photographers and lion lovers on social media ALL find dark manes desirable. But lions with manes of all shades and thicknesses (including scruffy to non-existent) annually breed and produce more lions throughout their range.
So in a 33-sentence article, 16 major points (minimally) are incorrect. They’re not simply typographical errors; they are important elements to consider.
The World Heritage Species group, whose social media posts spawned this Newsweek article, states they spread this news hoping it would protect these lions from hunters.
Ironically, they also encourage everyone to use the hashtag “theCONinConservation”. Quite a fitting self-description.
African lions are indeed a species of concern. But legal hunters are not among their primary threats.
Understanding their current plight, and enacting proper conservation solutions, is impossible when untruths are purported that divert from the real problems at hand.
Such false information has great potential to result in further damage if people believe it. Particularly concerning in this case, as Newsweek minimally reaches 100 million people each month.
Reporting in this manner is irresponsible and unacceptable. It disrespects the various wildlife professions, tourism sectors, rural communities and African governments who deal firsthand daily with challenges related to lions.
And it violates the trust of readers, who rightfully should expect adherence to journalism standards.
There is no pride, only shame, in the damage that inaccurate media sources do to facilitating proper lion conservation strategies.
The most newsworthy and beneficial to conservation ousting and exile would be banning the perpetuation of such misinformation and disinformation.
Newsweek policy states they correct mistakes transparently. Sincerely it is hoped they will, as the future of African lions depends upon the truth.