Editorial: To save lions, you have to kill them

Big-game hunting is a good thing, the Star Tribune editorial board concludes today, saying that fact is the story that’s not getting any attention in the outrage over Walter Palmer’s alleged slaughter of a lion in Zimbabwe.

The Strib isn’t excusing Palmer; not by a long shot.

Those who are attacking Palmer and trophy hunters in general need to recognize — like it or not — that one element of this story has largely been ignored: There is a case to be made that big-game hunting has economic and game management benefits like those described by Songorwa.

That’s Alexander Songorwa, the director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, whose commentary in the New York Times forms the underpinning of the Strib’s editorial. It’s actually a two-year-old article.

Of all the species found here, lions are particularly important because they draw visitors from throughout the world — visitors who support our tourism industry and economy. Many of these visitors only take pictures. But others pay thousands of dollars to pursue lions with rifles and take home trophies from what is often a once-in-a-lifetime hunt. Those hunters spend 10 to 25 times more than regular tourists and travel to (and spend money in) remote areas rarely visited by photographic tourists.

In Tanzania, lions are hunted under a 21-day safari package. Hunters pay $9,800 in government fees for the opportunity. An average of about 200 lions are shot a year, generating about $1,960,000 in revenue. Money is also spent on camp fees, wages, local goods and transportation. And hunters almost always come to hunt more than one species, though the lion is often the most coveted trophy sought. All told, trophy hunting generated roughly $75 million for Tanzania’s economy from 2008 to 2011.

The money helps support 26 game reserves and a growing number of wildlife management areas owned and operated by local communities as well as the building of roads, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure — all of which are important as Tanzania continues to develop as a peaceful and thriving democracy.

How could Palmer and other big games hunters have taken such delight in killing majestic animals? Easy, if Songorwa is to be believed: They think they’re doing a good thing.