Cecil the Lion and The Connection With Family Planning

Aug 3rd, 2015 | By | Category: Biodiversity/Conservation

By Suzanne York.

Lion in Namibia [Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_waiting_in_Namibia.jpg]

The outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion from Zimbabwe is palpable. Sadly, this lion is just one of many species of animals killed by trophy hunters (as well as poachers).

Yet would people be outraged if they knew that wild habitat for almost all species in Africa – and the world over – is decreasing due to the sheer number of people on the planet?

Coincidentally, just days after the Cecil story came to light, the United Nations Population Division released its latest projections for world population.

What’s a Few Billion More?

According to the UN’s median projection, by 2050, there may be 9.7 billion people on Earth, with 11.2 billion by 2100.  Please take a guess at where most of the growth will be?  You got it, it will be in Africa.

More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa.  And even after 2050, Africa is expected to be the only major area in the world experiencing substantial population growth.  Africans will comprise 25% of the world’s population in 2050. Today there are 1.2 billion people; at mid-century, there will be almost 2.5 billion.

There are perhaps 30,000 lions left in Africa.  If all hunting and poaching miraculously ended today, there is still not a lot of hope for wild lions.  Cecil was in a park, but even that doesn’t protect animals, and many species need room to roam, more than what parks tend to offer.

Beyond habitat cleared for homes, firewood, agriculture, and cities, there is the globalization onslaught at work in much of Africa, grabbing land for big agriculture, palm oil, flowers and more, mostly for export markets.


Total Fertility Median Projections – click to enlarge


Making the Right Investments

If much of the emotions over the killing of Cecil could be channeled into support for voluntary family planning, it might make a big difference.

Approximately 225 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but are not using safe and effective family planning methods, for a variety of reasons. What is needed are investments in contraception, health care (especially maternal and newborn health), supporting girl’s education, ending child marriage, and promoting women’s empowerment.   This is the “low-hanging fruit” – things that should be done and can be, at a relatively low cost.

The UN states that it is essential to invest in reproductive health and family planning, particularly in the least-developed countries, so that women and couples can achieve their desired family size.

Additionally, the nations of Africa must develop and bring people out of poverty.  This is what the sustainable development goals are striving to achieve.  But global society should help end poverty and support development in a way that  doesn’t wipe out nature.  We all have a stake in this.

Africa isn’t the only continent grappling with humans vs. nature.  Pick any continent, country or region and there are species at great risk – tigers in India, orangutans in Indonesia, bees in the U.S., polar bears in the arctic. Humanity’s insatiable consumption for resources is a major driving force of biodiversity loss.

Our current economic system is based on ever more growth – of resources and people. Changing that system and changing the way many of us consume will be challenging, but if we want to have lions and tigers and bears in the wild in the near future, change we must.  One easy first step is investing in voluntary family planning.

It really boils down to a paradigm shift – recognizing that nature has rights and that it isn’t here for humans to use and abuse and to provide us entertainment. There are consequences to our actions, and if we as a global society allow species that are an important part of the web of life to disappear in the wild, we might be changing it to our detriment.

In the meantime, one extinction that would be nice to see is that of trophy hunters…


Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies.


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