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After reading the recent article regarding the likely trophy hunting of the only known adult male lion in the Sesfontein Conservancy in Namibia, I thought of an interesting and possibly revolutionary concept to avoid this happening in future, or at least to provide more transparency in the process.

My idea – relating to Namibian desert-adapted lions – is controversial and not without potential problem areas. But I hope that it will spark a change for the better in how the situation is currently handled. Please treat my idea as a suggestion, and help me refine it so that it becomes a successful conservation tool.

In essence, my suggestion is to put a lion’s hunting tag up for auction and let the highest bidder win. 

Kebbel (XPL 81) ©Inki Mandt
©Inki Mandt

All legible hunting operators, photographic operators (i.e. those that are in Sesfontein Conservancy) and NGOs working in the area are allowed to bid.

The community leaders should attend the auction, and have the right to set a minimum price before the bidding begins. The auction will be managed and verified by an accredited professional such as an auditor, and the results a matter of public record. Only bids submitted at the auction will be considered.

Once the winner has been established, that lion has been ‘bought’ – the winner may choose whether they want to shoot it (i.e. the hunters) or not (photographic/NGO) – such decision will be made at the auction and recorded as binding.

If the lion is purchased ‘non-lethally’, then that lion can never be hunted as a trophy or a ‘problem animal’, without the new custodian’s prior written consent, which has to again be made a matter of public record. In the case of a ‘non-lethal’ purchase, if that lion is indeed killed by anyone, then the killer is liable to pay the ‘custodian’ the full price they paid at the auction, plus a penalty.

The auction proceeds should be earmarked specifically for human-lion conflict mitigation, of the community’s choosing (e.g. kraals, radio collars, or compensation). This way, the community makes the maximum amount of money out of each lion, and the non-hunting stakeholders have a way to prevent a valuable lion’s death. It will also reveal (to communities and the government) just how valuable a desert lion is in the eyes of the hunters and the tourism operators/NGOs. If the non-hunting groups come to the party as they should, then all will know that a living lion is of greater value than a dead one.

My idea applies to both ‘problem animal’ and trophy lions, as it seems that many trophy quality animals (such as Kebble) are being put up as ‘problem animals’, which are being snapped up by hunters. This is actually short-changing the community, as they get less money for a problem animal than for a trophy.

Possible problem area:

If the lion is ‘purchased’ non-lethally, and it is proven to cause subsequent livestock losses (with strictly applied protocol being observed), then the lion should either be relocated or killed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with no involvement from trophy hunters. Some of the money paid at the original auction could be held in trust for farmers that lose livestock to the lion in question to supplement the money already paid from government funds. This process, of identifying genuine ‘problem animal’ lions and dealing with them transparently and efficiently is required regardless of whether my idea is implemented or not.

Please view my idea as an early-stage concept, put forward in the interests of lion conservation. I would appreciate constructive input and engagement in the discussion forum below this post.

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Gail Thomson is a carnivore conservationist and science communicator who has worked in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana on human-carnivore conflict, community conservation and wildlife monitoring. Her published scientific work includes journal articles, chapters in scientific books and technical reports. She edits and writes for Conservation Namibia as part of her consulting work for the Namibian Chamber of Environment.

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