June 23, 2009

Hunters depleting lion, cougar populations

A U.S. study has determined sport hunters are depleting lion and cougar populations in both the United States and Africa.

The study, led by University of Minnesota Professor Craig Packer, looked at the number of lions and cougars killed by hunters during the past 15 to 25 years in Africa and the western United States. The analysis suggests sport hunting takes a significant toll on the large feline species because replacement males routinely kill their predecessors' cubs to improve their mating opportunities. Killing cubs forces female lions into estrus or heat, the researchers said.

Lion and cougar populations have suffered the greatest decline in African countries and U.S. states where sport hunting has been most intense, the researchers found. Leopards were not as affected since they benefited from reduced numbers of lions.

We need to develop scientifically-based strategies that benefit hunters, livestock owners and conservationists, Packer said. It's important to educate the public about the risks these large predators pose to rural communities and to help hunters and wildlife managers develop methods to sustain healthy populations.

The research that included Luke Hunter, Dave Garshelis and Kristin Nowell of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Species appeared in the June 17 issue of the online journal PLoS One.