Conservationists Clash on #CecilTheLion, Hunting, and the Future

(Photo by Clare Fieseler)
Zimbabwe-born Moreangels Mbizah speaks at pop-up session #CeciltheLion: What Next? at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Montpellier, France. Mbizah is a researcher with the University of Oxford’s WildCRU, the team who had collared and studied Cecil prior to his illegal killing. (Photo by Clare Fieseler)

Cecil the Lion’s illegal killing isn’t just trending in news, it was trending in the hallways of the International Congress of Conservation Biology (ICCB) last week. The bianual, five-day gathering of 2,000 scientists is structured by formal, planned presentations. But on the conference’s last day, an untraditional pop-up session called “#CecilTheLion: What Next?” revealed just how factionalized 65 of us conservationists are about lion hunting.

In fact, after a one-hour debate, the group could only broadly agree on two things:
1. We conservation scientists could do better on social media to soothe knee-jerk reactions.
2. Let’s harness the public emotion behind #CecilTheLion for a professional, scientific, and global dialogue about conservation, trophy hunting, and human welfare.

Why No Agreement?

It’s not just the “hunting-is-good-for-conservation” argument that divides us.

The voices at the professional conservation roundtable are more diverse than ever. Gone are the days when conservation professionals were strictly from the West. This year’s ICCB meeting drew delegates from over 90 countries. The Society of Conservation Biology, the professional society organizing ICCB, has gone from 80 percent North American membership to 50 percent in the past 15 years. These perspectives bring some realism to conservation problem-solving.

“If we ban trophy hunting tomorrow, then what happens?” said session leader Moreangels Mbizah, an Oxford University researcher working in Hwange National Park. She is a native Zimbabwean who has studied lions in the region including Cecil. “It’s more complex than we would like to think.” Other delegates from African countries echoed the importance of considering the complex web of —> Read More