You might remember a short time ago there was somewhat of a controversy over a dentist from the US "mistakenly" killing a famed and beloved lion, Cecil, for sport. It was illegal both in Zimbabwe, where it occurred, and you can't import trophy animals into the US. The controversy stems from the fact that there's a strong economic argument for limited legalization of both these things.
Ok, Econ 101. The three main factors of producing anything are land, labor, and capital. You can think of land as any natural resource, i.e. Lions (sorry, Cecil). If you're Zimbabwe or say, South Africa, and you have a major income inequality problem, and you're rich in both natural resources and labor, but have issues with the 3rd factor, how do you best use the resources that you have to solve the problem? One solution, favored by Kenya, is to sell a limited number of lion permits to hunters for a very high price. This revenue goes straight back to game parks to conserve the rest of lion population, the permits are ONLY for specific lions (these particular lions are chosen because they would have to removed from the population for biological reasons, anyway), and finally hunters of that wealth spend a lot of money on guides, etc. that goes directly to the local economy. They key is that this lion population has to be managed responsibly and the country needs to have solid institutions to make his work; Kenya has this, Zimbabwe does not. Of course, this is controversial even from an economics standpoint, and you can listen to the con argument on this great episode of Radio Lab.
Of course, there's an alternative to utilizing your "lion resource" this way, and that's to rely on relatively low impact eco tourism as South Africa does. Eric Chiang and I actually didn't think we'd have enough time to explore the Johannesburg Lion Park, but Elias, being awesome, just said, "YAH! We can make that happen." So we went on "safari."
It was an amazing experience. We saw springbok (South African national animal), zebras, water buffalo, cheetahs, wild dogs, and of course, lots of lions. I'll try to post as many photos as I can buy I want to point out two things. First, it wasn't a zoo, it was a game park; meaning that the animals had hundreds of acres of free range. Second, it seems to be run well and it was generating lots of income for the local economy both through admissions, photos, and souvenirs. Thomas Acox, get ready for your new Zulu fly swatter.
Up next, we travel all the up through Africa to Dubai!