The decision to allow sport hunting in Niassa Reserve rests with the Mozambican Ministry of Tourism (MITUR). Our objective is to manage potential threats to lions and leopards. The sport hunting of underage leopards and lions is a known threat to lion and leopard populations. We have therefore been working for the past 10 years to find solutions to reduce this threat and ensure sport hunting is sustainable in the Niassa environment. Sport hunting is strictly controlled by the Ministry of Tourism and is used to generate an income for conservation activities both nationally and particularly in Niassa Reserve. There are nine active hunting concessions inside the protected area covering more than half of the protected area estate. The sport hunting operators are expected to provide antipoaching and infrastructure support in their concessions in addition to their sport hunting activities and thereby ensure that sport hunting is not only a viable business but a conservation tool. NCP has been monitoring lion and leopard trophies in NNR since 2004. We independently monitor and age all carnivore trophies that are taken in NNR each year for MITUR and the NNR management team. In addition we assist the NNR management team with developing effective regulations for NNR sport hunting operators to manage lion, leopard and hyaena sport hunting. Peer reviewed research in Tanzania and Zimbabwe has shown that sport hunting of lions can be sustainable if lions taken as trophies are at least six years old, as these males are generally not pride males and have already raised a litter of cubs. Taking out a younger male allows a new male to come into an undefended pride and kill the cubs (such infanticide is routine in those situations).
In 2006 we developed an innovative trophy monitoring and quota-setting system that enforces a six-year age minimum for all lion trophies in Niassa, and also offers incentives for compliance and disincentives for violations. In a bold move, the Niassa Management Authority, and all the sport hunting operators active in Niassa at the time accepted our proposal and the NNR lion regulations and Niassa Lion Points System for assigning quotas were implemented. In 2008, Niassa Reserve won the CIC Markhor Award in part because of this innovative Lion Points System and attendant regulations.
As a result of these efforts, the number of underage lion trophies taken in Niassa has dropped dramatically, from 75 percent to less than 20 percent and total annual off-take has decreased from 11 lions to 6 – 8 lions per year despite an increase in the number of concessions. No lions under the age of four years have been killed for sport since 2006, and sport hunting of lions in Niassa is currently considered sustainable with minimal effect on local lion population dynamics.
We commend the professional hunters, Niassa sport hunting operators, and the Reserve Management team for their commitment to sustainable lion hunting. However it has to be recognized that the mortality of lions from sport hunting is additive to mortality from retaliatory hunts and snaring, and so the total mortality combined is unlikely to be sustainable at present. Sport hunting also presents a dilemma when working with local communities as for local communities it is illegal to kill any wildlife for food or income, while in sport hunting concessions foreigners can kill wildlife for sport. The links between sport hunting and community benefits are currently poor.