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Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.

Sad for Simba?

Tuesday 29th January 2013

Sad for Simba?

                                                          Where have all the pridelands gone?


In a recent article in The Economist, a reporter mentioned that “whereas elephant and rhino poachers often end up dead or in jail, no lion killer in Kenya has ever ended up behind bars”. The article mentions that Kenya is losing about 100 lions per year (a number that has been bandied about but never substantiated) mainly as a result of human-lion conflict and perhaps ritual killings by Maasai warrior-inductees. Poisonous pesticides like Carbofuran (banned but still widely available) are used widely to destroy lions and other predators.

 

There are some problems with the article, not least that the author does not distinguish between commercial poachers after rhino horn and elephant ivory and those people out for retaliation following loss of livestock to dangerous predators. What is true is that in terms of wildlife both activities achieve the same net result – an ever-increasing cycle of destruction.

 

It is said that in Kenya about 70% of wildlife occurs outside strictly protected areas like national parks and reserves. This is largely because the gazetted protected areas are too small to form viable ecological units that can contain wildlife year-round during wet and dry seasons. In addition, some wildlife species, mainly the ones without teeth and claws, have been historically well tolerated on extensive Maasai grazing lands. Nevertheless, and after many years, the real question has not been satisfactorily answered in Kenya – “can dangerous predators like lions live with humans and their livestock?”

 

This lack of an answer has not resulted from a lack of ideas attempting to make living with predators less onerous for the rural people expected to do so. These include:


• Compensate people for their losses, either as a national or a privately funded initiative. There are three problems with this approach – farmers will cheat to get compensation; compensation is often slow; and private schemes are generally not durable. In addition, national schemes like those in Botswana have not worked well as despite a compensation scheme lions are still killed. In addition, compensation schemes do not pay for the full value of a lost animal as that would discourage better herding practices.


• Introduce an insurance scheme where people pay in to get paid out. Again, this is open to abuse through fraudulent claims, is not a concept that makes sense to rural communities who perhaps do not want to live with lions in the first place, and needs more careful administration than insurance providers seem to have been capable of in the past. In essence, if a claim is turned down, the claimant will be tempted to kill the lions anyway.


• Incentivise rural populations to live with wildlife through various benefit schemes. In Nepal, for example, communities are paid a bonus each year if they forego killing snow leopards and in India people are given grazing rights in national forests (and compensation) the sum total benefit of which exceeds the economic loss of cattle killed by Gir Forest lions. In Kenya, cattle regularly invade protected areas (the Kenya Wildlife Service estimates hundreds of thousands per year) and are not effectively dealt with – in other words the communities are utilizing national resources illegally without penalty and therefore do not value the resources as an offset against costs of living with wildlife.


• Involve rural communities to share in the financial benefits derived from wildlife. This was meant to be a wonderful way of changing hearts and minds – if wildlife pays for itself it will be seen as an asset worth conserving rather than a nuisance worth nothing. Two approaches have been tried in the past – consumptive utilization mainly through trophy hunting and non-consumptive use through photographic tourism. Both have failed in most instances as the rural communities do not truly share in profits that instead all accumulate to operators and governments. Despite many publications pointing out shortcomings, little has changed over very many years. However, in cases where community conservancies have been established, financial benefits flow more directly to the communities and conservation of directly valuable wildlife seems to have a better chance.


• Protect livestock better in areas where dangerous predators occur. This would involve better herding practices and construction of stronger enclosures (with or without flashing lights)  where domestic animals can be protected at night when predators are most active. This assumes there is plenty of alternative prey available for predators (not always the case) and that livestock can be grazed within a fixed distance from their enclosures (also not always the case especially in drier areas and/or during dry seasons). Also, it assumes that rural communities will accept that they must do more and pay more to protect their livestock because of the presence of dangerous carnivores they might not want to tolerate in the first place.

 

Conservation of large predators which impact on human populations by preying on livestock and indeed cause loss of human life is one of the most difficult challenges we face. We have not done well in the past as evidenced by the great decline in all large predator populations all over the world. Past formulas for conservation have not worked well, or at all, not because the ideas were wrong but in many instances because the application of the formulas did not sufficiently benefit the people expected to live with wildlife. This is true both for consumptive and non-consumptive users. Also, as fellow carnivores, humans are often in direct competition for wildlife prey (largely through poaching) with lions leading to a diminution of natural prey bases and an unsurprising turn towards domestic stock by predators. This engenders an ever-increasing cycle of human-predator conflict. In addition, direct poaching of predators like lions seems to be a growth industry to satisfy both the Traditional Chinese Medicine market now deprived of tiger products and the demand for teeth, claws, skins and skulls to supply the tourism industry in many lion range states. Not only that but lion products like fat are used in Nigeria to treat a variety of ills, lion skins have ceremonial value in many African countries (as do leopard skins), and lion cubs are taken to supplement the lion breeding industry (for trophy hunting) in South Africa and to supply the exotic animal trade in places like the United Arab Emirates.

 

Essentially, the decline in lions across Africa has not unsurprisingly resulted from an overwhelmingly negative perception of these dangerous animals by an ever-growing human population. In addition, lions are susceptible to a variety of introduced diseases like canine distemper and bovine tuberculosis, the more so because lions are naturally infected at very high levels by feline immunodeficiency virus, a disease that reduces immune competence and cub survival. Also, organizations like CITES supposedly regulating the international trade in animal and plant products to ensure such commerce does not negatively impact on conservation status stubbornly insist that trophy hunting offtake (accounting for 70-80% of all trade in lion products) is not trade – a lion trophy is merely a “household and personal effect”. Finally, conservation organizations like WWF and the Panthera Foundation confuse clarity as they continue to see commercial offtake of lions as a positive conservation benefit.

 

So what way forward for lions? There are positive developments. Botswana banned trophy hunting of the species in 2008 and a few weeks ago Zambia also announced an indefinite moratorium. More nations will doubtless follow suit and we are applying pressure where appropriate. To prevent further declines, we have accepted a fall-back position to ensure at least survival of lions in nationally protected areas that have a long-term probability for survival of viable populations. The viability of those areas will of course depend on their overall income from non-consumptive tourism, and many African nations have not yet developed the infrastructure to facilitate access to some of the most beautiful areas in the world. More international funding should be made available to intelligently conserve lions – after all something like $100 million was pledged to conserve tigers. Lions are an iconic species all over the world, and ensuring their survival as a world heritage is incumbent on all of us, not just the lion range states often struggling to make ends meet.

 

And finally, can people be expected to live with lions? That remains the biggest unanswered question that many seek to sweep under the carpet of conservation convenience. If 100 lions are killed per year in Kenya (out of a current lion population we estimate at 1,200-1,400 in a nation with a wildlife tourism income estimated at $500 million per year), then there continues to be a major disconnect between theoretical and realistic conservation. Conflict mitigation must be better addressed by Kenya as it is one of Africa’s countries most lauded for setting conservation examples. Good conservation starts at home, and so far it seems that Kenya is failing her lions, one of the biggest money spinners of international tourism and highly important to Kenya’s national heritage and culture.

 

Picture credit: Disney Corporation

 

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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:14

  Lion trophy hunting and range state population numbers

Please click on this link to see a country by country assessment of lion trophy hunting for African nations that permit(ted) the practice. This is the most up-to-date analysis, and includes CITES export numbers, threat assessments for lion populations in each country, a summary statement for each country, and a conclusion on trophy hunting offtake.

Please bring this report to the attention of members of Congress, Senators, Members of Parliaments, and Members of European Parliament who represent you. It is a document that all decision makers need to see to end lion sport hunting. We need your active participation to circulate this report. Thank you.

 

Picture Credit : Chris Harvey

 

 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:45