African Lion - panthera leo
Of all Africa's animals none are better known than the mighty "King of the Beasts" immortalised in many Hollywood movies and adventure hunting novels. The lion exudes majesty and power, always a breathtaking sight to any hunter and rightly so.
No African hunter can ever forget the gaze of intent yellow eyes calculating from within dense thorn scrub, the earth shattering roar or the crunching of bones in the darkness. Try hunting a hungry lion that has no fear of man, on foot, in dense vegetation...you'll come away with a new perspective on life...
The recent CECIL debacle has heaped attention onto the legal hunting of Lion and the unfortunate ramifications of ignorant social mediaists has resulted in a misguided retaliation by wildlife powers such as the USFWS. Regardless of local bans, Lion hunting continues unabated in Zambia (Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Namibia).
All that the CECIL episode succeeded in doing was to create a renewed public concern for the African Lion perpetuating an avalanche of pleas for donated money by shady and suspect "CON" - servation non profits. Previously this flow of donated funds came from the plight of the Elephant yet these had dwindled in the last decade so another flagship species was needed and thus created through clever engineering by the Oxford researcher.
Managed Lion hunting in no way contributes to the decline of the species and contributes far greater benefit through habitat protection and anti-poaching vigilance by people who are often prepared to give their lives for the sake of Wildlife. Habitat encroachment, commercial and bushmeat poaching and unethical hunting are the key concerns facing the African Lion, not the trophy hunter. Trophy hunters make an easy target for social media yet individually contribute far more than millions of ignorant social mediaists!
Lion are fairly widespread throughout Africa occurring where game and habitat is most secure and abundant. They are the only social cats and live and hunt in prides sometimes reaching up to 30. Resting in the daytime, they hunt from dusk, stalking prey downwind before the final rush. Common prey are herding animals such as zebra, wildebeest and buffalo, where confusion and panic can be caused. A 200lb Lioness will think nothing of tackling a 2000lb buffalo bull. Lion tend to follow big herds and it is not uncommon to find Lion spoor when on the track of a herd of buffalo. Although not always successful, Lion are extremely efficient hunters and opportunists, often robbing prey and young from cheetah and leopard.
Lion hunting tips - the hunt
In most countries Lion are hunted with baiting, with the hunter lying in ambush from a constructed blind about 30-50 yards off. The procedure is to first hunt bait, usually buffalo, hippo, zebra or any other large trophy taken, and to then hang or fasten the carcass to a tree in a likely area where Lion would occur. The bait is then checked every day until there has been a hit or strike. A large spoor or long hairs with black tips on the bait signal the building of a blind, on the ground or in a tree nearby where the hunter and PH will lie in wait usually from mid-afternoon or early mornings. The time spent in the blind waiting for the Lion is one of the most interesting and exciting of the chase. Here you have to remain absolutely still and silent, with other game and often the Lion passing so close to you, you can hear them breath.
The best shot to take is on the shoulder blades at the vital organs. Due to the mane, head and neck shots are not recommended. Sometimes the "Texas heart shot" is very effective as lion are not heavy bodied.
It is illegal to hunt with the aid of a light in most countries. In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia special permits can be obtained.
Lion hunting tips - the calibre
Lion are soft-skinned animals not requiring large bore calibres and solids. Anything from a .300 Magnum upwards with a heavy grain soft-nosed bullet is more than enough and shots are never at a great distance.
Lion hunting tips - the trophy
To the hunter, the ultimate quarry is a large maned lion even though the SCI Measurement is based upon the size of the skull. Mane does vary according to habitat with lion in open savannah or desert-like regions growing larger manes than those found in thicker bush. Often large-bodied Lion do not sport a mane of significance and hunters often mistakenly keep trying until they eventually get "The King".
Lion hunting tips - where
Recently the proliferation in safari hunting has resulted in many younger male lion being taken. As a rule the number of large maned lion hunted each year is decreasing with hunters having to accept lower trophy standards. Tanzania saw this effect in realtime when they embarked upon their splitting of the concession areas to gain more revenue. The quality of their Lion trophies dropped almost within a year and they are only just recovering this year.
Prime concessions in Zambia still yield large bodied, black maned lion for the hunter who has patience and determination.
In the early 1940s livestock farmers in Zambia suffered severe losses to their cattle from the high incidence of lion attacks. In those days, the city of Lusaka was, literally, a one street town and lion parading down the main street were not uncommon.
To this day, some of the old timers still talk about a man who helped them get rid of the lions on their farms. His name was Blik Oosthuizen and it is said that he had shot well over 300 lion in his hunting life with his 8x57 mm mauser.
What made him so well known was his manner of hunting the lion once they had killed a cow - he would lie down next to the carcass and wait for the lion to return and would then either shoot the cat from a lying position or stand up and shoot if there were more than one....
The "canned lion" story surfaced in the British press in the "Cook Report" in 1998 when a journalist accompanied a South African PH on a lion hunt. The video footage was indeed one-sided and propagated, but did show a lioness being shot from a vehicle inside a very small enclosure (which was true). A few clips of meowing cubs were added for emotional effect. The furore led to the suspension of all SCI Record Book entries for lions taken from South Africa and Namibia and rightly so. The South African government has recently placed restrictions on the hunting of large predators in the country which will result in the "canned hunting" method dying out. However knowing the South African set-up, you will still get those outfitters offering Lion for hunting and it remains to be seen what penalties will apply to these transgressors.
the bottom line
Realistically, one only has to look at the game ranching and hunting set-up in South Africa and Namibia, to realise that it is very unlikely that free roaming Lion would still exist on a huntable scale
Therefore most lion offered for hunting are, or have at some stage been captive, and have been released onto an adequately enclosed area to be hunted. The value of ordinary game makes it unlikely that any economically minded game rancher will allow Lion to roam freely on his ranch while waiting for a foreign hunter to come on safari!
We believe that the lion population within South Africa and Namibia is far healthier than that in other countries (due mainly to Lion breeding programmes) and should be utilised ethically as a sustainable resource. In addition, the trophy quality of Lion in these countries often surpasses that of the rest of Southern Africa in both size and mane. In many cases, the hunting of these Lion can be more challenging than from the safety of a blind 50 yards away using bait and spotlights.