'The Cecil effect': 200 lions to be shotSave
By Peta Thornycroft
It is the country where Cecil the lion was killed, sparking international anger against the American dentist who shot him.
The outcry over Walter Palmer's killing of Cecil drove other big-game hunters away from Zimbabwe, fearful they too would attract the opprobrium of the public.
But in what is being described as a side-effect of the affair, Zimbabwe's largest wildlife area says it now finds itself suffering from an overpopulation of lions.
Bubye Valley Conservancy has more than 500 lions, the largest number in Zimbabwe's diminishing wildlife areas.
It has warned that its lion population has become unsustainable and that it may even have to cull around 200 as a result of what is being called "the Cecil effect".
Now Bubye is appealing for other institutions or wildlife sanctuaries to take some of its lions.
Conservationists estimate about half of Zimbabwe's wildlife has disappeared since president Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned land began in 2000, but Bubye has held on by attracting wealthy hunters whose fees support its wildlife work.
But last year's shooting of Cecil, in a conservancy bordering Hwange National Park, sparked a huge backlash against big-game hunting, and bolstered a US plan to ban trophy hunting imports.
Plummeting oil prices have further led to a drop in the number of visitors from US states such as Texas, from where traditionally large numbers of hunters go to Zimbabwe.
Bubye's lions are decimating populations of antelope, along with other animals such as giraffe, cheetah, leopards and wild dogs, after the driest summer on record kept grasses low and made the small game easy targets.
Blondie Leathem, general manager of Bubye Valley Conservancy, said: "I wish we could give about 200 of our lions away to ease the overpopulation. If anyone knows of a suitable habitat for them where they will not land up in human conflict, or in wildlife areas where they will not be beaten up because of existing prides, please let us know and help us raise the money to move them."
In the Forties, there were thought to be as many as 450,000 lions on Earth, but today they are classed as "vulnerable", with numbers feared as low as 20,000.