While trophy hunting provides revenue for conservation, it must be carefully managed to avoid negative population impacts, particularly for long-lived species with low natural mortality rates. Trophy hunting has had negative effects on lion populations throughout Africa, and the species serves as an important case study to consider the balance of costs and benefits, and to consider the effectiveness of alternative strategies to conserve exploited species. Age-restricted harvesting is widely recommended to mitigate negative effects of lion hunting, but this recommendation was based on a population model parameterized with data from a well-protected and growing lion population. Here, we used demographic data from lions subject to more typical conditions, including source-sink dynamics between a protected National Park and adjacent hunting areas in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley, to develop a stochastic population projection model and evaluate alternative harvest scenarios. Hunting resulted in population declines over a 25-year period for all continuous harvest strategies, with large declines for quotas greater than 1 lion/concession (~0.5 lion/1000 km2) and hunting of males younger than 7 years. A strategy that combined periods of recovery, an age limit of ≥ 7 years and a maximum quota of ~0.5 lions shot per 1000 km2 yielded a risk of extirpation < 10%. Our analysis incorporated the effects of human encroachment, poaching and prey depletion on survival, but assumed that these problems will not increase, which is unlikely. These results suggest conservative management of lion trophy hunting with a combination of regulations. To implement sustainable trophy hunting while maintaining revenue for conservation of hunting areas, our results suggest that hunting fees must increase as a consequence of diminished supply. These findings are broadly applicable to hunted lion populations throughout Africa, and to inform global efforts to conserve exploited carnivore populations.
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