• Just 20,000 lions left in Africa, 43% drop in two decades
  • Human-lion conflict the biggest threat to populations

Africa needs an annual budget of at least $1.25 billion to save the lion, conservationists said, a year after the killing of a Zimbabwean cat named Cecil provoked global outrage.

The money is required to protect lions’ natural habitat from human encroachment, the most effective way of maintaining populations, Panthera, WildAid and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, known as WildCru, said in a report published Thursday. Cecil, a 13-year-old lion whose black mane made him popular with tourists, was being monitored by WildCru when he was illegally killed by U.S. hunter Walter Palmer in July 2015.

“The future of the lion in Africa hangs in the balance,” the groups said. “Although there is a scattering of populations that are probably secure for the long term, many more are under extreme pressure and will disappear without concerted conservation action.”

Cecil’s death prompted an outpouring of sympathy and anger as it exposed the scale of Africa’s trophy hunting industry. Governments including those in the U.S., France, the Netherlands and Australia tightened restrictions on importing trophies from animals that had been hunted. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. joined airlines including Emirates and Deutsche Lufthansa AG in banning customers from transporting big-game hunting trophies as cargo.

There are 20,000 lions left in Africa, a 43 percent decline in the past two decades, and just six countries host populations with more than 1,000 animals, the groups said in their report. The only countries to buck the trend are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which together are home to almost a third of the continent’s lions. The cats are confined to 8 percent of their historical habitat.

‘Cecil Summit’

WildCru and Panthera will hold a “Cecil Summit” in September to work out how much of the $1.25 billion a year is already funded and what portion needs to be raised.

While the hunting industry needs to be reformed, it’s “a relatively small factor contributing to the lion’s current status,” the three groups said. Humans encroaching on lions’ territory and killing them to protect livestock is a much bigger threat.

The increase in locals hunting for so-called bushmeat as a cheap source of protein is also a major threat. The killings reduce the amount of prey available and lions often get caught in traps set for animals such as wildebeest and zebra, according to the three organizations. Hunting can play a role in preserving habitat and giving lions an economic value, but quotas are often too high and revenues fail to benefit local communities, they said.

Hunters have hit back at criticism, saying the industry is a major contributor to conservation and communities. The conservation arm of Safari Club International, which suspended the membership of Palmer, a Minnesota dentist, for shooting Cecil, said earlier this month that trophy hunting contributes $426 million dollars to eight, mostly poor, sub-Saharan African countries and employs 53,000 people.

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