The ecosystem of the Bubye Valley Conservancy is being severely disrupted partly due to the Cecil Effect.
After the massive public outcry resulting from the Cecil the Lion scandal last summer, the Bubye Valley Conservancy is in rough shape. The number of foreign hunters traveling to Zimbabwe, especially in pursuit of lions, has fallen off dramatically in what is being termed the “Cecil Effect.”
Put simply, the Cecil Effect describes the phenomenon we are witnessing now where, due to the death threats and harassment Walter Palmer and other hunters suffered last year, fewer people are hunting lions and other big game species in Zimbabwe. As you’ll see, paradoxically, the way people lashed out about the killing of Cecil and their misguided efforts to “save” lions in Africa is actually resulting in more lions being killed.
Recent regulations imposed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service making it more difficult to import lion trophies into America have also contributed to the decline in lion hunting in Zimbabwe. While this may seem like a good thing to some people, the conservancy is now suffering from a severe overpopulation of lions and may have to cull up to 200 lions this year to keep the population at a sustainable level.
The Bubye Valley Conservancy, which covers over 2,000 square miles, has the largest lion population of any conservancy in Zimbabwe at more than 500 lions. The lack of hunting pressure on the lion population, combined with one of the worst droughts on record, has resulted in the lions causing staggering damage to populations of antelope and other plains game in the area.
Officials at the conservancy realize that something must be done soon or the damage will get worse. According to Blondie Leathem, the general manager of the Bubye Valley Conservancy:
I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation. If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them.
If nothing is done, the lions will continue to kill and eat record numbers of antelope until there isn’t enough food left to sustain the lion population. Then, the lion population will quickly crash as hundreds of lions starve to death. If that happens, it will take years for the lion population to recover (if it ever does).
Animal rights activists have suggested using contraception on the lion population to keep it from growing. However, that plan is criticized as impractical and prohibitively expensive on such a large lion population. Even if it were practical to implement, that would only maintain lion numbers where they are now and it would take years for lion numbers to decline to more sustainable levels. During that time, the lions would continue to decimate the plains game population.
As discussed in a previous article about the damage a ban on hunting in Botswana has caused to wildlife populations there, the irony of the situation is that when properly regulated trophy hunting is instituted in an area, fewer animals are killed overall.
The Bubye Valley Conservancy consists of former farmland that had been cleared of wildlife. The 2,000 square mile area was fenced and wild animals were reintroduced in 1994. Since then, wildlife populations have thrived in the conservancy even as populations elsewhere in Zimbabwe have suffered in recent years. For instance, Bubye is also home to a large herd of black rhinos.
Additionally, well managed hunting conservancies greatly contribute to the surrounding communities. The income generated by hunters visiting Bubye funds schools, clinics, and other public institutions in the area. The conservancy provides jobs for countless locals and the meat from animals killed by hunters is given to nearby villagers.
Unfortunately, the Cecil Effect is threatening to destroy all of this.