The story of Cecil the lion has gotten a great deal of media attention.  Cecil, a lion from Zimbabwe, was killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, in early July of this year. The outrage over his death has come from how he was killed, lured from his habitat and shot with a crossbow, and from the very concept of trophy hunting.

Trophy hunting has been a divisive issue in several African countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe for some time. There are several reserves where animals are free to roam without the threat of hunters, but in many circumstances the surrounding areas of these reserves do allow people to hunt, if they have paid enough money.

Advocates of trophy hunting have argued that the sport is actually a way to help conservation, stating that the sport generates revenues of as much as two hundred million dollars a year. The idea is that the income that is generated  from trophy hunting will filter back into the poor communities that surround many African game parks. However, studies show that only about three percent of the money generated from trophy hunting actually reaches the local communities, most of the money is pocketed by corrupt government officials and the hunting industry.

In the eight sub-Saharan countries that currently sell hunting permits that allow hunters to target lions, the animals are dying at an alarmingly fast rate. Only thirty-two thousand to thirty-five thousand lions are now believed to live in the wild, down thirty percent over the past twenty years. Many animals, including the African elephant, are being annihilated by trophy hunting and a change is desperately needed before they become extinct.

Examples of positive ecotourism do exist, such as in Rwanda, where the government sells expensive ecotourism permits that enable tourists to hike with expert guides into the habitat of an endangered species and see the animals at close range. This has had an incredible impact on the neighboring communities by generating income that pays for schools and electricity, and thus in turn encourages local people to protect rather than poach the animals.

Cecil’s story ended tragically, but it doesn’t have to end the same way for all the lions in Africa.  Countries in sub-Saharan Africa should use Rwanda as an example of how to utilize positive ecotourism, rather than trophy hunting, to better their communities and save the endangered lions and elephants for future generations to enjoy.