Hunting Non-Exportable African Lions – The New Norm?

I think that most serious hunters have entertained the idea of hunting the African lion. The lion is a challenging and dangerous animal to hunt and is possibly the most iconic game animal on Earth. Hunting him will test the hunter’s skills and mental fortitude. Due to recent changes in import regulations which have an effect on hunt prices, a lion hunt is more affordable than ever.

Due to current US law, the vast majority of lion hunting opportunities for Americans are hunts where it is impossible to import the skin and skull back to the United States. That does not mean that hunters should not hunt lions. Hunt prices are at a place where they have become as affordable as a plains game hunt for someone wanting to hunt a non-exportable lion. And the experience of the hunt is the same.

There is an internal debate hunters inevitably go through when considering to hunt an animal they cannot legally import back into the United States. Mounted animals and skulls act as a reminder of the hunt and bring honor to the creature so worthy of pursuit. However, laws are laws and some animals cannot be imported despite the fact that there are sustainable enough populations that necessitate hunting.

Ultimately, the hunt is about the experience. On a non-exportable lion hunt, the hunter can still memorialize the hunt through pictures. Nothing is different about the actual hunt. My encouragement to hunters is simple: go and hunt lion. Live the dream you’ve been dreaming. The experience of a lion hunt is like no other, and the opportunity to even hunt African lions is never guaranteed in the future. Although it seems paradoxical, hunting lions is something that will help sustain the populations for generations to come.

When hunters travel to pursue lions, they are actively contributing to their conservation. When hunters spend money on a lion hunt, whether it is a free range hunt or not, it gives lions value. Without value, lion populations reduce or disappear. Africa’s human population is exploding and there is a finite amount of space on the continent. Lions have huge home ranges and require a lot of space. There is a fragile coexistence at best in places where lions live near humans. Lions are dangerous to humans and destructive to wildlife and domestic stock. It is difficult for Westerners to understand the constant danger one lives in when living in the presence of lions. Having travelled to over 20 African countries and spent a lot of time with locals, it is not uncommon to meet people who have been maimed by lions or have had family members or friends maimed or killed by lions.

However, in Africa, if it pays it stays. Hunting dollars from lion hunts make lions worth something to those who live in close proximity to them. In places where hunting is not allowed and there is no market for photographic safaris either, lion populations are low or nonexistent.

It is unfortunate that our own USFWS has become so political in its decision making rather than using scientific data to drive their decisions. Recently, however, USFWS has finally recognized what African countries and hunters have always known. In an October 20, 2016 announcement, Director of US Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe stated that, “sport hunting of wild and wild-managed lions does contribute to the long-term conservation of the species in South Africa.” He also stated that, “lions are not in trouble because of responsible sport hunting.” However, USFWS has still made laws that make importation of lions very difficult, and in many cases, impossible.

Law Changes on Importation of Sport Hunted African Lions

On December 23, 2015, USFWS announced it would restrict trophy hunted African lion imports through a permit system administered under the US Endangered Species Act. The law went into effect on January 22, 2016. Before this date, lions would be imported without an import permit as long as they had the proper CITES export permit from the host country.

The USWFS ruling did a couple of things. First, they split African lions into two scientific subspecies. They categorized Panthera leo melanochaita as East and South Africa lions and designated them as threatened. They designated Central and West African lions as the same subspecies of Asiatic lions, Panthera leo leo, and put them on the endangered list. This part of the ruling pretty much ends importation of sport hunted lions from Central and Western African countries. However, it did not completely shut down trophy hunted imports from East and South Africa, and because their designation is considered “threatened,” they applied rule 4(d) from the Endangered Species Act. This states that import permits for lions will only be given when it can be proven that “the importation of sport hunted P.l. melanochaita trophies will ensure hunting contributes to the survival of the species in the wild.” While USFWS gave examples of some of the things they would look for in permit applications, it was and currently remains ambiguous as to how they will decide which permit applications pass muster.

On October 2016, USFWS ruled that it would not allow imports of lions from South Africa that were not free range (captive reared.) They left the door open to the rest of the East and South African subspecies to possibly be imported, but ultimately they will decide whether or not to grant importation permits on an individual basis.

Rifles for Hunting Non-Exportable Lions

While it is possible to kill a lion with a lesser rifle, hunting laws across Africa generally prohibit using a caliber smaller than a.375 H & H. This is a good thing. It is better to have more than enough power for dangerous game. A.375 is sufficient for the job at hand and anything larger is a bonus. Shots are usually between 30-60 yards, so you can use your judgment on whether or not to use a scope. Ideally, a scope of 1×4 power is best because it allows you to find the lion in the scope quickly in the event of a charge. Open sights are adequate (and quite possibly preferred) but only if you are proficient with them. Use quality expanding bullets (softs) and not solids.

Some outfits allow you to rent a rifle if you do not own a dangerous game caliber rifle. Because shots are usually close, this is not as poor of an option as it seems. It is nice to use a rifle you are familiar with, but it comes down to affordability in the end, and some hunters hate traveling with a firearm.


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