Smiling Hunter's Dead Lion Photo Highlights Big Cats' Plight

Conservationists warn there could be no more wild lions within a decade.

ByABC News
November 17, 2013, 6:04 PM

Nov. 17, 2013— -- A Minnesota-based television presenter and big-game hunter's photo of herself posing with a lion she'd killed in South Africa comes as conservationists warn that the big cats could be gone from the wild in the next decade.

According to a new report, 75 percent of the wild lion population has been killed in the last 20 years, and if nothing is done to slow that pace within 10 years the only lions left could be in zoos.

"Over the last 20 years lion population has gone from 300,000 to less than 30,000," said Shandor Larenty, an animal trainer and conservationist at Lion Park in Gauteng Province, outside Johannesburg, South Africa. "In that sense, why would anyone want to come out and decrease those numbers even more?"

Melissa Bachman recently posted a photo to her Facebook account of herself smiling next to the carcass of the lion with her rifle in one hand.

"An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60-yards on this beautiful male lion,'" Bachman wrote. "What a hunt!"

The photo quickly went viral, drawing outrage from animal lovers and inspired Cape Town resident Elan Burman to start a petition asking the South African government to ban Bachman from the country for her actions

"She is an absolute contradiction to the culture of conservation, this country prides itself on," the petition reads. "As tax payers we demand she no longer be granted access to this country and its natural resources."

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Nearly 15,000 people had signed the petition as of Saturday morning.

Bachman has not publicly responded to her critics and immediate calls to reach her were unsuccessful. Bachman hosts a hunting show called "Winchester Deadly Passion" that follows her on different hunting trips across America.

In a video on her website Bachman describes herself as "a hunter to the core" and that hunting has been a part of her life since she "was a little girl."

The hunt during which Bachman killed the lion was conducted on the land of the Maroi Conservancy. The conservancy is based in the Limpopo province in South Africa and their motto is "conservation through sustainable hunting."

The conservancy defended the hunt on its Facebook page today, saying that all food and funds from these kinds of hunts go to the local community and that the hunting is ethically done "per guidelines from Nature Conservation."

"We are not apologising for facilitating the hunt," the post reads. "If you are not a game farmer and struggling with dying starving animals, poaching and no fences in place to protect your animals and crop, please refrain from making negative degoratory[sic] comments."

Bachman's shooting of an African lion at the Maroi Conservancy was legal, but others are asking, even if it is legal, is it right?

"When I saw the photo I was in absolute disgust," Larenty said. "The way she can just sit there proudly and smile, it's disgusting."

But while her supporters maintain that everything she did was proper, lion lovers disagree.

"This photo is an absolute contradiction to conservation," Larenty said. "We pride ourselves in educational conservation and how do you explain to a child what this woman is doing?"

This is not the first time that hunting exotic animals has drawn criticism recently. The Dallas Safari Club drew outrage after planning to auction off a permit to kill an endangered rhino. The club defended the auction by saying that all funds raised would help go to rhino conservation. But animal rights groups said they didn't believe the reasoning behind the auction made sense.

"I think if they were multimillionaires and they were serious about helping rhinos, they could give money to help rhinos and not shoot one along the way," said Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States. "The first rule of protecting a rare species is to limit the human [related] killing."

ABC News' Dean Schabner contributed to this report.