24 February 2004

Hunters urged to shoot only dark-nosed lions

Researchers have developed a rule of thumb that they hope could save lion populations from declining at the hands of trophy-hunters. They are urging hunters to kill only males with dark noses.

A lion's nose is speckled with dark pigment, and these freckles become more pronounced as the lion ages, explains Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul, who led the study.

Removing only the old males whose noses are at least 50% dappled with pigment would minimize the disruption to lion prides, his team found1. This gives cubs a better chance of survival.

Packer's team used data from 40 years of observations of lions in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, where hunting is banned. They created a computer model that simulates the consequences of different hunting strategies.

If a young male is killed, his pride stands a good chance of being taken over by a rival, who will kill the cubs to encourage females to devote themselves to raising new ones sired by him. If a pride changes hands too often, fewer cubs make it to adulthood and lion numbers slump.

You just know someone's going to say it, so it may as well be me.

Don't shoot until you see the whites off their muzzles!

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