Many lions at death risk in Cecil the Lion’s park: Researchers

London, Feb 23 (IANS) When Cecil the Lion was killed last year by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe, it caused a global outcry. Now, researchers from universities of Southern Denmark and Oxford have calculated that many more male lions from the same park are likely to die in conflicts with humans.

Cecil the Lion lived in the national park Hwange in Zimbabwe. One day, he wandered out of the park – though some claim that he was lured out by his killer, a trophy-hunting dentist from the US.

The team presents a demographic model for estimating the risk using data of the past 15 years.

Sixty-nine out of 100 males were estimated to have died from age-independent causes in Hwange and will continue to do so if estimated death rates remain unchanged, the team has said.

“This means these males do not die of old age. The most likely cause of death is to be killed by trophy hunters or local farmers protecting their herds,” said Julia Barthold from the University of Southern Denmark.

The Hwange National Park lies in north-western Zimbabwe. The study area extends to 7,000 square km and the park borders on hunting concessions in the north and north-east. Human settlements occur on the north and east of the park.

The researchers applied the same model to another area that is less disturbed: A 2,000-square-km area in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Here lions have almost no contact with humans.

“In Serengeti, only six out of 100 male lions are likely to die from age-independent causes, meaning only very few die at the hands of humans,” Barthold added.

How trophy hunting impacts the lion numbers as a whole is a key research question for lion conservation, Barthold added in a paper published in Journal of Applied Ecology.

The death of Cecil the Lion made headlines all over the world. One reason was that he was a particularly famous member of the park’s lions, another that he came to symbolize how difficult it may be to effectively protect animals even in national parks.

There was no – and is still no – fence around Hwange, so animals from the park can freely cross its boundaries.

Male lions do this regularly, and this puts them at high risk of being killed outside the park, the authors noted.

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