Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.
Thursday 25th July 2013
It is undisputed that lions are being lost at a great rate. Of the 49 continental African nations, lions are already extinct in 25 countries and seriously threatened in a further 10 countries. Only 14 countries with some lion populations remain, but even there these predators are increasingly threatened.
The major threats include a long list of factors including loss of habitat, loss of prey due to unregulated bushmeat poaching, civil strife, lack of effective wildlife departments, lack of political will to engage in wildlife conservation, conflict with livestock and humans, excessive trophy hunting, diseases introduced by domestic animals, lack of dedicated national lion conservation programmes, and lack of realistic lion population numbers to guide better and more effective conservation techniques.
Some of these factors can be addressed by conservation programmes, others will require significant sociopolitical solutions. For example, wherever there is civil strife, wildlife conservation is no longer on any agenda. Countries without effective central governments will also lack any effective wildlife conservation programmes. This means, that among the few African range states where lions might still remain, we can pretty much rule out a future for lions in Somalia, large stretches of South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali.
Remaining lion populations in Malawi (<40), Nigeria (<40), Senegal (<40) will need greater efforts than currently exist to ensure any future survival. Remaining populations in western African nations like Benin, Burkina Faso and Cameroon immediately need to be placed on the IUCN Critically Endangered Species list as well as CITES Appendix I as they represent a unique genotype and perhaps have no more than a few hundred animals remaining. All those three mentioned nations still allow trophy hunting offtake.
So where do lions have a long-term future with much better conservation programmes? We would say Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, Uganda (no trophy hunting offtake); Zambia (trophy hunting moratorium); and Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania (trophy hunting offtake).
Conservation challenges are different and similar in countries with and without lion trophy hunting. Except for South Africa, lion populations in all other nations occur within unfenced protected areas too small to contain seasonal wildlife movements. As a general statement, wildlife concentrates in protected areas with water resources during the dry season, but then disperses away during the wet seasons. Not surprisingly, lion/livestock conflict increases greatly during the wet season.
There have been a number of attempts to mitigate lion/livestock conflicts in the past, but these have been piecemeal, inconsistent, and seemingly incapable of integrating adaptive progress. As a comprehensive statement, financial compensation programmes for livestock losses do not convince communities to tolerate lions. This is because government programmes, like those in Botswana, are slow and bureaucratic. Private programmes might work better, but often run out of funds. Both programmes do not compensate fully for livestock lost to prevent false claims and encourage better herding practices. None of these programmes ultimately convince tolerance among communities living with lions to accept livestock losses.
Neither do the trophy hunting arguments that giving value for lions increases tolerance. Communities are expected to accept livestock losses because, overall, they benefit from lion trophy hunting fees and other handouts. In theory, a good agenda that has long underpinned the lion trophy hunting industry rhetoric. In practice, a failed programme as hunting companies only share about 3-4% of profits with communities and governments and community organizations dispense crumbs to those living with wildlife.
In discussions with communities in Kenya suffering from direct lion livestock conflict there are much better ways forward. These include better protected bomas and night-lights to deter predators. But more importantly, the communities themselves came up with much more straightforward and equitable ways forward to deal with livestock losses and predator tolerance. We cannot yet disclose these while we seek to implement them, but they are simple and elegant and could be applied across lion conflict zones at very little cost.
These programmes would also apply to regions in Africa too arid to allow bomas for cattle – Botswana for example, where free-ranging grazing is the only sustainable option outside the wet season.
Another big problem for lion conservation is that we do not really know how many lions are left. Very few nations have engaged in direct lion counts as they are expensive. They require trained individuals engaged over many months, photographic evidence, repeat surveys, and unbiased evaluation. To date, lion surveys have largely been conducted by various categories of guesses and extrapolation of available habitat. This is no longer acceptable.
Especially as the trophy hunting countries need very accurate lion population numbers to at least guide future quotas and offtake. For example, vested opinion surveys placed 3,199 lions in Zambia in 2002. Other indirect surveys indicated a minimum of 970 to a maximum of 1,975. More recent estimates show that there might well only be between 414 and 750 lions. Zambia, before the moratorium on lion hunting, was allowing an average of 60 male lion trophies to be exported yearly 2007-2011. A hunter-funded programme, the Zambia Lion Project, supposedly oversees trophy lion age minima, but has not published any publicly available information since inception in 2004.
This brings up another point. Nowhere, in any lion trophy hunting country in Africa, have there been any recent surveys of lions in hunting areas. In many trophy hunting countries, the concession holders have been allowed to set their own quotas based on no discernible data. Meanwhile, studies in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Cameroon have shown that trophy hunting concessions bordering on nationally protected areas greatly influence lion populations in terms of male depopulation, pride structure, reproduction.
In 2004, Craig Packer and his associates published a paper much applauded by the hunting community that indicated that as long as male lions over the age of six were shot, quotas were not necessary. Based on very questionable data about male reproduction (males take over prides age 4, are evicted by new males when they reach age 6 and then have no further reproductive opportunities) supposedly based on Serengeti lion data (challenged by virtually all lion research programmes), and guided by computer models, this has now become written in stone for hunters. Now every trophy hunter supposedly aims for 6 yr old males to the benefit of future survival of lion populations.
Big problems remain. Lions are very difficult to age through a telescopic rifle sight, and younger and younger males are continually shot. Only in Mozambique is there an enforced 6 yr minimum, but how do you realistically age a lion to 6 yrs? It remains a puzzle. Tooth wear, pulp cavity measurements, skull suture measurements all occur post-mortem. Nobody abides by them, and nobody admits that the 6 yr rule is fundamentally flawed. Craig Packer will not speak out against it, but he knows full-well that it is based on questionable science.
So how to go forward? We propose a much better lion conservation programme based on 10 points:
1. Lion range states need to conduct urgent, independent and sound population assessments. Such assessments need to be done in hunting concessions and protected areas alike. Once remaining population numbers are scientifically determined, much better conservation programmes can be put in place.
2. Lion conflict needs to be better addressed to truly mitigate costs of communities living with dangerous predators. No more piecemeal and temporary solutions, a breakthrough is both required and available.
3. Lion research programmes need to do more than monitoring. Disease threats need to be urgently assessed and quantified. Causes of lion mortality need to be documented and mitigated. Research programmes need to be established in hunting areas subjected to many years of male offtake to determine consequences of trophy hunting as a “conservation tool”.
4. Lions need to be brought to the forefront of range state national conservation programmes. Far too much attention is presently devoted to rhinos and elephants in Africa. All lion range states need to immediately formulate and enact lion conservation programmes. In all range states, lions should immediately be declared nationally protected species.
5. All lion trophy hunting should cease. There are no benefits to the species for this continued offtake.
6. The USA and the EU should immediately declare an import ban on all African lion trophies. Until independent assessments can verify that such offtake is sustainable, and does not impact negatively on trophy source populations, the precautionary principle allowed by CITES should immediately be implemented.
7. South Africa has allowed a captive breeding programme including about 7,000 lions to provide canned hunting for eager trophy hunters. All countries should immediately ban any import of lion trophies originating in South Africa on the basis that the industry integrally involves animal cruelty. No wild animal species should be purpose-bred in small enclosures using forced breeding techniques to be hunted. There is considerable evidence that lion breeding programmes to supply trophy hunters are being established in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe at least.
8. Vested interest groups like the Safari Club International, Conservation Force, CIC, etc are lobbying hard to maintain lion trophy hunting. Politicians and decision makers should insist on careful evaluation of scientific information regarding the status of lion populations after more than 30 years of “conservation hunting” in a number of African range states. If conservation hunting had been successful, lion populations should be flourishing instead of being in steep decline everywhere.
9. Lions should be internationally recognized as a species of concern by agencies and governments, not shuffled under the carpet in favour of tigers, orang-utans, rhinos and elephants. Procedures to ensure lion protection have largely been ignored by NGOs and funding agencies in their rush to sanction species placed in the media spotlight rather than taking more considered courses to ensure biodiversity conservation.
10. LionAid is the only NGO specifically dedicated to lion conservation in the world. We should not be expected to bear this burden for an iconic species faced with an inevitable slide to extinction unless immediate and realistic attention is paid by conservation donors.
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Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:48
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