A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

How to Save Lions by Killing Them. (Huh?)

Alexander Songorwa, director of wildlife for the Tanzanian Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, explains that the best thing we can do to protect the remaining lions in Africa is to keep hunting them.

“ODD as it may sound,” he writes, “American trophy hunters play a critical role in protecting wildlife in Tanzania.”

Very true, Mr. Songorwa, it does sound a little odd.

Alexander-Songorwa-031813The director is worried that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service may put lions on the Endangered Species list, which would make it illegal for American hunters to bring home the lions they’ve killed to decorate their homes. But these hunters “constitute 60 percent of our trophy-hunting market, and losing them would be disastrous to our conservation efforts.”

From 2008 to 2011, the director explains, trophy hunting of lions and other animals generated $75 million for Tanzania’s economy. So the director pleads with the U.S.:

Help us make trophy hunting more sustainable and more valuable. In short, please work with us to conserve wildlife, rather than against us, which only diminishes our capacity to protect Tanzania’s global treasures.

Mr. Songorwa really does want to save the lions. To that extent, he’s one of the good guys.

But imagine if we applied this logic to humans – perhaps to starving children. We’d argue that with so many children starving in under-developed countries, it’s just impossible to feed them all, and the situation never gets better. So we should agree to kill, say, half the starving children and thereby double the food we can give to the ones we keep alive. And that would solve the problem of child hunger!

african-lion-031813The argument actually makes sense if you view children as a “species”, as we do with other animals, rather than as individuals. If the purpose of the operation were simply to keep humans flourishing in Africa, then it would be logical to consider the options from a numerical point of view. We’d say that “this is the best way for us to be able to preserve African children so that they’re still there for our grandchildren to enjoy.” (That’s always the rationale for saving the whales and the tigers and the elephants: we should save them “so they’re there for future generations of our children.”)

But of course, when it comes to children, we don’t view them as a “species”; we view them as individuals, each one of whom is important in his or her own right. To see them any other way is abhorrent to us.

We don’t view children as a “species”, but as individuals, each one of whom is important in his or her own right. Imagine if we saw other animals that way.

When it comes to other kinds of animals, however, we take the exact opposite approach. They’re not individuals with a right to live; they’re a species that we want to preserve. So killing some in order to preserve the species becomes acceptable.

Same applies to animals we want to eat. We’re warned about “over-fishing” the oceans in case we kill so many fish that the species itself can’t be “sustained.” Screw the fish themselves; just save the species at all costs.

The pressure is finally on at the CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) conference, currently wrapping up in Bangkok, to do something to save the elephants who are on the edge of extinction as a result of the illegal ivory trade. It’s on the front burner now not because elephants are being killed because so many have been killed that within 20-20 years there will be no elephants left.

Same goes for the sharks. Last week, the CITES conference voted to protect a few species of sharks. Hunting them down will now require a license so we can protect the species from going extinct. As we wrote last week:

Carlos Drews, head of World Wildlife Fund’s delegation to CITES, called the shark votes “a landmark moment”. And Ralf Sonntag, shark specialist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, called the move “a bold move by CITES. These sharks are worth far more alive than dead to local communities.”

Admittedly, it’s a ridiculously pie-in-the-sky notion, but imagine a world where sharks and lions and elephants were valued for what they’re worth to themselves – just as we value our own human children.