African Lion – panthera leo
Of all Africa’s animals none are better known than the mighty “King of the Beasts” immortalised in many Hollywood movies and adventure hunting novels. The lion exudes majesty and power, always a breathtaking sight to any hunter and rightly so.
No African hunter can ever forget the gaze of intent yellow eyes calculating from within dense thorn scrub, the earth shattering roar or the crunching of bones in the darkness. As a working professional hunter, this animal draws my deepest respect and admiration as the most noble of all Africa’s creatures to pursue in fair chase.
A recent CITES scare and a shortage of good Lion hunting areas has resulted in the price of fair chase hunts skyrocketing. Added to this, recent legislation in South Africa cracking down on the hunting of large captive bred predators has created more demand than there are Lion hunts.
Expect to pay anything from $40,000 upwards for a good Lion Hunting concession in any of the southern and central classic destinations. For the best, like some areas of Zambia, Botswana, and Tanzania, expect to pay from $75,000 upwards of $100,000.
Realistically, amidst all the pressure to close down Lion hunting and the poor scientific research activities of many countries, we believe it is simply a matter of time before these large cats are placed onto CITES I.
Lion were once widespread throughout Africa occurring where water and food was adequate. However their range has been forcibly decreased due to burgeoning populations and conflict with the ensuing livestock. They are the only social cats and live and hunt in prides sometimes reaching up to 30 or more. Resting in the daytime, they hunt from dusk, stalking prey downwind before the final rush. Common prey are herding animals such as zebra, wildebeest and buffalo, where confusion and panic can be caused. A 200lb Lioness will think nothing of tackling a 2000lb buffalo bull. Lion tend to follow big herds and it is not uncommon to find Lion spoor when on the track of a herd of buffalo. Although not always successful, Lion are extremely efficient hunters and opportunists, often robbing prey and young from cheetah and leopard. They are highly adaptable and resilient cats however have come under pressure from many different sources and today face an uncertain future
Lion hunting tips – the hunt
In most countries Lion are hunted with baiting, with the hunter lying in ambush from a constructed blind about 30-50 yards off. The procedure is to first hunt bait, usually buffalo, hippo, zebra or any other large trophy taken, and to then hang or fasten the carcass to a tree in a likely area where Lion would occur or where tracks have been seen. The bait is then checked every day until there has been a hit or strike. A large spoor or long hairs with black tips on the bait signal the building of a blind, on the ground or in a tree nearby where the hunter and PH will lie in wait usually from mid-afternoon or early mornings. The time spent in the blind waiting for the Lion is one of the most interesting and exciting of the chase. Here you have to remain absolutely still and silent, with other game and often the Lion passing so close to you, you can hear them breath.
The best shot to take is on the shoulder blades at the vital organs. Due to the mane, head and neck shots are not recommended. Sometimes the “Texas heart shot” is very effective as lion are not heavy bodied and often they only give you a couple of seconds to take the shot.
It is illegal to hunt with the aid of a light in many countries, however this practice does continue. In Mozambique only predators may be hunted with the aid of a light as well the use of a calling device. In Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia special permits can be obtained to hunt at night with a light.
Lion hunting tips – the calibre
Lion are soft-skinned animals not requiring large bore calibres and solids, in fact a rapidly expanding soft nose is the bullet of choice. Anything from a .300 Magnum upwards with a heavy grain soft-nosed bullet is more than enough and shots are usually never at a great distance. The .375 magnum is the minimum caliber required in most countries. Lion, as with other cats, have a highly developed nervous system and often succumb to the impact of a hard hitting rapidly expanding bullet near the vital organs. However the best shot is always a heart shot and it is wise to rather make sure of the shot than take on in haste.
Lion hunting tips – the trophy
To the hunter, the ultimate quarry is a large maned lion even though the SCI Measurement is based upon the size of the skull. Mane does vary according to habitat with lion in open savannah or desert-like regions growing larger manes than those found in thicker bush. Often large-bodied Lion do not sport a mane of significance and hunters often mistakenly keep trying until they eventually get “The King”. The fact is, lion that are part of a pride or male fellowship generally have a greater success hunting meaning they are better fed. Often large older male lions that have been ousted from the prides fall into poor condition including their manes.
There are instances of maneless lions such as Col. Patterson’s famous man-eaters of Tsavo, and today there seems to be a higher incidence of the so called maneless gene. As a veteran of more than 28 years hunting in Zambia for the dangerous game, I find any claim of a maneless male Lion highly questionable. Todays PH’s are under so much pressure to produce big male lion due to high Safari prices that they often revert to the maneless gene excuse as a reason to take an immature lion.
Lion hunting tips – where
Recently the proliferation in safari hunting has resulted in many younger male lion being taken. As a rule the number of large maned lion hunted each year is decreasing with hunters having to accept lower trophy standards. Tanzania saw this effect in realtime when they embarked upon their splitting of the concession areas to gain more revenue with higher quotas. The quality of their Lion trophies dropped almost within a year and they are only just recovering this year.
ZAMBIA is currently the best country for the traditional baited Lion hunt and prices have skyrocketed in those GMA’s tat are still capable of producing the best manes. Expect to pay around $75,000 all in for a decent hunting concession while the best areas and operators are demanding in exceess of $100,000.
Prime concessions still yield large bodied, black maned lion for the hunter who has patience and determination. BUT recently some of the southern Luangwa GMA’s have not fared as well on trophy quality and success. A recent reduction in Quotas of Lion and Leopard may mean less pressure on the Lion in these areas and could see them producing better results in the next few years.
Zimbabwe has always remained a case apart producing some of the continents biggest cats BUT ten as a rule do not have a huge quota of Lion and most tend to be on the maneless side.
Mozambique has become the new destination of choice for the classic Lion safari, still available at a decent price. Lion are perhaps not as prolific as in neighbors Zambia and Zimbabwe, BUT the quality of Lion coming out of Mozambique is excellent and the tip of the iceberg has only just been uncovered. In fact historically the largest Lion in southern and central Africa have come from Mozambique’s Tete region, the old hunting grounds of Karamojo Bell.
South Africa – The “canned lion” story surfaced in the British press in the “Cook Report” in 1998 when a journalist accompanied a South African PH on a lion hunt. The video footage was indeed one-sided and propagated, but did show a lioness being shot from a vehicle inside a very small enclosure (which was true). A few clips of meowing cubs were added for emotional effect. The furore led to the suspension of all SCI Record Book entries for lions taken from South Africa and Namibia and rightly so. The South African government has recently placed restrictions on the hunting of large predators in the country which will result in the “canned hunting” method dying out. However knowing the South African set-up, you will still get those outfitters offering Lion for hunting and it remains to be seen what penalties will apply to these transgressors.
Realistically, one only has to look at the game ranching and hunting set-up in South Africa and Namibia, to realise that it is very unlikely that free roaming Lion would still exist on a huntable scale. Therefore most lion offered for hunting are, or have at some stage been captive, and have been released onto an adequately enclosed area to be hunted. The value of ordinary game makes it unlikely that any economically minded game rancher will allow Lion to roam freely on his ranch while waiting for a foreign hunter to come on safari!
We believe that the lion population within South Africa and Namibia is far healthier than that in other countries (due mainly to Lion breeding programmes) and should be utilised ethically as a sustainable resource. In addition, the trophy quality of Lion in these countries often surpasses that of the rest of Southern Africa in both size and mane. In many cases, the hunting of these Lion can be more challenging than from the safety of a blind 50 yards away using bait and spotlights.
It is ultimately the ethics of you, the hunter, that should be strong enough to realise and dictate the situation of hunting Lion in South Africa or Namibia.
In the early 1940s livestock farmers in Zambia suffered severe losses to their cattle from the high incidence of lion attacks. In those days, the city of Lusaka was, literally, a one street town and lion parading down the main street were not uncommon. To this day, some of the old timers still talk about a man who helped them get rid of the lions on their farms. His name was Blik Oosthuizen and it is said that he had shot well over 300 lion in his hunting life with his 8×57 mm mauser. What made him so well known was his manner of hunting the lion once they had killed a cow – he would lie down next to the carcass and wait for the lion to return and would then either shoot the cat from a lying position or stand up and shoot if there were more than one….