Modeling the effects of trophy selection and environmental disturbance on a simulated population of African lions

Karyl L. Whitman, Anthony M. Starfield, Henley Quadling, Craig Packer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Tanzania is a premier destination for trophy hunting of African lions (Panthera leo) and is home to the most extensive long-term study of unhunted lions. Thus, it provides a unique opportunity to apply data from a long-term field study to a conservation dilemma: How can a trophy-hunted species whose reproductive success is closely tied to social stability be harvested sustainably? We used an individually based, spatially explicit, stochastic model, parameterized with nearly 40 years of behavioral and demographic data on lions in the Serengeti, to examine the separate effects of trophy selection and environmental disturbance on the viability of a simulated lion population in response to annual harvesting. Female population size was sensitive to the harvesting of young males (≥3 years), whereas hunting represented a relatively trivial threat to population viability when the harvest was restricted to mature males (≥6 years). Overall model performance was robust to environmental disturbance and to errors in age assessment based on nose coloration as an index used to age potential trophies. Introducing an environmental disturbance did not eliminate the capacity to maintain a viable breeding population when harvesting only older males, and initially depleted populations recovered within 15-25 years after the disturbance to levels comparable to hunted populations that did not experience a catastrophic event. These results are consistent with empirical observations of lion resilience to environmental stochasticity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)591-601
Number of pages11
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2007


  • Lion harvest
  • Panthera leo
  • Population model
  • Population viability
  • Serengeti
  • Sustainable use
  • Trophy hunting


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