Given that in Africa wild lions are in catastrophic decline–the latest International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) figures suggest that fewer than 20,000 remain–it may come as a shock to discover that as many as 10,000 of the continent’s iconic big cats were legally hunted and exported as trophies in the ten years ending in 2013.
The vast majority of these lions were bred in captivity for the purpose of hunting. The mostly American and European sports hunters took the lions to their home countries as trophies–mounted heads or skins for their collections.
The tally for hunted lions is likely even higher than 10,000, says Dereck Joubert, wildlife filmmaker and National Geographic explorer-in-residence, because not all hunters take trophies. Some hunt just for the sport.
Six African countries where lions still range freely–South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania–were analysed using the official CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) trade database, which lists animal and plant products exported and imported internationally.