The government of Zambia announced this week that it would be banning the hunting of lions and other endangered big cats because the estimated $3 million brought in by game hunting is far outweighed by overall tourism revenue (estimated at 2.3% of GDP in 2011, or approximately $412 million). Allowing a decline in the big cat population, even for big money, isn’t worth the potential losses across the broader industry. Zambia is home to over 10% of the 35,000 free-ranging lions estimated to still live on the African continent as a whole.
In this country, as in many of the eight countries surrounding it, big game animals can seen as a part of the natural resources. Big game sightings can be as valuable as Victoria Falls for attracting tourists, or generating income and jobs. Zambia’s tourism revenue is dwarfed by that of its neighbors, and recent government policy is intended to close the gap.
If only all conservation math were so quantifiable and straightforward.