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
The European Union has invited LionAid to participate in a review of current regulations concerning the import of hunting trophies of species listed on their Annex B (equivalent to CITES Appendix II).
We feel this review is well overdue and therefore increasingly urgent. It should be noted that a number of EU Member States proposed a comprehensive review of current import practices by all parties at the recent CITES Conference, but this was watered down to only include elephant and rhino trophies. Such trophies belatedly have to be issued with import permits (not required before, an export permit from the country of origin sufficed) – in response to the rampant rhino “pseudo-hunting” scam facilitated by lax controls in South Africa.
“Pseudo-hunting”, as you will remember, took advantage of a glaring loophole in CITES regulations where a “hunter” could legally export a rhino trophy and then quickly take advantage of the significant difference between the hunting price and the street value of the horn to turn a tidy profit. This is against the CITES rules, but to date there have been few successful prosecutions outside South Africa we are aware of (though arrests have been made in the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Such horns initially were collected by droves of Vietnamese hunters, but as eyes in South Africa slowly began to open (largely due to NGOs and the media raising questions), the syndicates began to recruit numbers of proxy hunters from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, Poland, Russia and the USA (countries, it might be added, with significant Vietnamese communities).
Trophy horns imported by such “proxy hunters” have since not surprisingly been conveniently declared as “stolen”, “lost”, cut up and given to relatives and friends, etc.
It is suspected that the same scenario applies to ivory collected by “hunters” in Africa – “cut-rate” hunts are offered by many agents and operators, the ivory is legally exported, and the tusks then “disappear”. Again, the EU is involved – CITES records indicate substantial increases in numbers of Danes and Portuguese, for example, showing a sudden interest in elephant hunting and significant discrepancies between numbers of exports versus imports. Ivory from hunts often seems to vanish into thin air.
The EU is proposing to “address” the issue by contemplating a requirement for import permits in addition to export permits for hunting trophies.
Lions fall in a different category, in that there does not appear to be an illegal trade in hunting trophies per se. However, we will advocate a complete ban on the import of lion trophies from South Africa. Such trophies virtually all originate from the captive breeding industry (“canned hunting”), are mislabelled as “wild” by South African authorities to allow hunters to place them in record books maintained by hunting organizations like SCI, and are hunted by very cruel techniques. In fact, the entire captive breeding for trophy hunting concept should have come under much greater scrutiny and sanctions in the past, but such was the attention given to rhinos, elephants and tigers that the industry was allowed to blossom and bloom.
If the EU prohibits import of seal skins from Namibia and Canada on the basis that this industry is based on cruel practices, why not similarly ban imports of lion trophies emanating from the canned hunting industry? Since South Africa only exports captive raised lion trophies, a blanket ban would not be difficult to enforce as the issue of truly wild versus captive raised animals would not need to be considered. While over 60% of canned lion trophies go to the USA, significant numbers end up in Germany, France, Spain, etc in the EU.
The necessity of an import permit for lion trophies from countries other than South Africa would also give the EU, under existing Wildlife Trade Regulations, greater latitude of ensuring that lion trophy hunting is indeed sustainable. This sustainability is currently claimed by the trophy hunting community but is increasingly being challenged by published information, surveys, and indeed the governments of Botswana and Zambia.
We will seek backing from our supporting organizations like IFAW, HSI, EIA and others to ensure that lions are not once again swept under the carpet in the exclusive stampede to conserve African elephants and rhinos. Desperate though the status of such species might be, concern needs to be spread to all species suffering from unsustainable commercial offtake whether it is poaching, “pseudo-hunting” or legalized trophy hunting.
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Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:49
Wednesday 5th December 2012
Let’s look back over the past twenty years and celebrate the major successes that have made a real difference to the survival of species and world ecosystems. Like you I’m struggling here so let me backtrack while I think on this.
One of my favourite authors, V.S. Naipaul (above) hailing from Trinidad, was for a time a lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. Famously, according to Paul Theroux, another favourite author, Naipaul was given the responsibility of assessing winners for the Creative Writing prize among his students. Naipaul declined to grant a First or Second prize, and only awarded a Third prize to the contestants. He said nobody was good enough to earn higher prizes.
Mr Naipaul was known as a perfectionist and a tough judge. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, and perhaps we can apply the Naipaul Principle to conservation. Sure, there are many individuals who win conservation prizes for their dedicated efforts. You might know their names and they are good people working tirelessly to ensure the species they are concerned with might have a future. In terms of real effectiveness Mr Naipaul would still perhaps give them his Third Prize in terms of overall efficacy.
Now let’s consider the NGOs that claim to have made a major contribution to wildlife conservation. There are big ones and small ones, and some are making a difference. But funding, according to the Naipaul Principle, is largely misspent. Leave alone the various president, vice president, assistant president, species presidents, financial officers, lawyers, public relation companies, office rents, meals, travel and sundry expenses, the amount spent on corporate maintenance versus species conservation beggars belief. One major NGO spent $50 million on “conservation grants” according to 2008 tax records, but an analysis indicates that $35 million of that amount was spent on maintaining international offices. Meanwhile they also spent $116 million on their own office and “functional” expenses. In total that organization spent 90% of received funds on their own operations versus conservation programmes. Conservation has become business, and Mr Naipaul would give no prizes to such well established NGOs.
Turning to the international organizations, few have performed well. CITES has not maintained their promise to support the ban on international ivory trade, and that had led to the killing of 25,000 elephants over the past three years in Tanzania alone. CITES allowed South Africa to conduct rhino trophy hunting and the horns disappeared immediately into the illegal trade in Vietnam, home of “pseudo trophy hunters”. CITES allowed trade of hundreds of live rhinos from South Africa to very dubious destinations in Asia. CITES allows captive bred tigers in South Africa to be trophy hunted and live tigers to be exported to China where they are destined for the medicine pots. CITES allows a “personal and household effects” derogation to exempt lion trophies that constitute about 70% of lion offtake from any consideration of trade, meaning that CITES abrogates responsibility. Mr Naipaul will not be handing any prizes to CITES especially given the tragicomic charade at the last Conference of Parties (2010) in Doha and a likely repeat next year in Bangkok.
The IUCN does not see fit to consider genetic information to declare African forest elephants critically endangered. Nor do they consider western and central African lions similarly endangered on the basis of their unique genetics. If the IUCN could be so motivated, they would make a big difference in funding priorities. The IUCN and another major NGO are opposed to the good Kenya initiative to place a moratorium on South African rhino trophy hunting (a major conduit into the illegal trade), mentioning that it will negatively affect income of private rhino owners. A strange decision given conservation and poaching concerns in other African countries – Kenya lost five rhinos poached just over the past weekend. Mr Naipaul would not be impressed with such apparent vested interest influence within organizations entrusted to keep a keen eye on species’ survival.
The International Whaling Commission has been somewhat effective in conserving whales. Despite all negative information concerning the impact of whale harvests, the IWC still allows offtake by Japan, Iceland and Norway for “scientific reasons”. But overall, the IWC gets a Naipaul Third Prize for trying hard and recently insisting that all decisions will be based on scientific information transparently made available to the public.
So, who gets a First or Second Prize? Nobody. The failure of all organizations to make a tangible conservation difference over the past 20 years is sadly evident despite many hundreds of millions earned from donors. What is needed is a new formula; much better attention to scientific information, combating illegal offtake and a much better evaluation by the donating public as to the effectiveness of the organizations receiving their money. Mr Naipaul would say that heads need to roll in many organizations based on non-performance and betraying a public trust. But conservation organizations are not (yet) evaluated according to Mr Naipaul’s rules.
It is true that conservation of species and ecosystems is being presented with an ever-changing playing field – just look at the impact of commercial poaching on rhinos, elephants, lions, pangolins and sea horses, for example, to supply a seemingly insatiable demand for ivory and Traditional Medicine products in Asia. But the writing was on the wall for a long time. You can’t shape the future of conservation by relying on past formulas while poachers are using night-vision goggles and helicopters and big bribes for officials. Conservation efforts are due for a sea change if wildlife is to survive, and the Naipaul standard of performance must be applied.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:50
Monday 16th July 2012
South Africa has long had an official policy to place wildlife in private hands. This means kudus, wildebeest, impalas, rhinos, lions etc are traded and bred to supply game ranches, private parks, hunting organisations. Many hunting proponents claim that South Africa “saved” white rhinos by allowing them to be sold to private owners to then be shot by foreign hunters. And South Africa “saved” many other species by allowing them to be ranched and sold for commercial profit. Indeed, some will claim that by allowing private breeders to supply canned lion hunting trophies, we are actually saving the wild lions.
But we do need to take an informed step backward from such views. Let’s perhaps give South Africa some credit for the initial idea of allowing wildlife, normally the property of the State, to be placed in private hands. Perhaps there was even some hopeful thought that this would result in a positive benefit for conservation.
But this has never happened. Private ownership by necessity involves commercial utilisation, most of which will be consumptive (hunting for meat and trophies, live trade), so by and large there is no conservation component – just having more “wildlife” on game ranches does nothing for wild populations. Indeed, by allowing rhinos to be commercially utilised, South Africa provided an initial supply that seeded massive levels of commercial poaching in the country and beyond. By creating a supply for the Asian Traditional Medicine bone trade of lions, South Africa has created growing levels of lion poaching across Africa, especially involving neighbouring countries like Botswana.
South African authorities have denied such connections and absolve themselves of responsibility. They say the trade in rhino and lion products is legal, and therefore will not cease. They do not answer telephone calls or e-mails on these issues.
To successfully put pressure on South Africa to cease trade in wildlife products that are conservation negative, we need to look at a bit of history. Apartheid in South Africa did not solely end from within, but needed international pressure to ensure its extinction. The trade in rhino products, lion bones, and captive bred tigers will continue unless South Africa is subjected to appropriate international censure.
What is appropriate pressure? A boycott of South Africa by environmentally conscious tourists who clearly state their reasons for not coming. A campaign to make public South Africa’s transgressions in the wildlife trade by the media. An international call to replace the current environment Minister, Edna Molewa, who tolerates rhino poaching and the lion bone trade. An investigation by Interpol into the illegal wildlife trade in South Africa, including identification of the people involved in the very active wildlife Mafia operating in that country… just for a start?
Apartheid picture image credit:http://bit.ly/Nr1QVl
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:48
Saturday 14th July 2012
Supposedly, ostriches are supposed to bury their heads in the sand when they don’t like what they see, and then hope it will all blow over. No real ostrich has ever done this, but the image sticks and is entirely appropriate to how a great diversity of problems are “dealt” with in the world today. Newspaper barons and bankers have most recently tried to adopt these means to their ultimate detriment.
This is not the way to deal with conservation issues, as only the species will go away, not the problems.
I have been writing much about South Africa recently – the Ministry of Environment supports the rhino horn trade, the lion bone trade, the ivory trade and the trade and trophy hunting of captive bred tigers. The politicians, like Edna Molewa, the Environment Minister, do not seem to realize that when she sticks her head in the sand, the largest part of her body is still visible to the rest of us. It should be noted that South African politicians (among those in very many other countries) are good at being ostriches.
Perhaps a relevant example is that past South African President Thabo Mbeki and past health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang denied that the HIV virus caused AIDS, a rather curious denial given all scientific proof. A study by Harvard University in the USA estimated that 365,000 people died as anti-retroviral drugs were then no longer supplied in South Africa – the past health Minister urged people to take garlic, lemon juice, and beetroot as remedies. The Minister who replaced Dr Manto apologized…
I appeal to President Zuma of South Africa to instruct Edna to get her department in order or replace her. South Africa is increasingly seen as a country with destructive wildlife conservation policies, and such policies are spreading into the destruction of wildlife across the continent. South African Conservation organisations remain silent, but we need to speak out. LionAid has never been shy to address issues head on – and unless the ostrich model changes in South Africa, we would advise all conscientious tourists to stay away.
Picture credit: http://bit.ly/ND46bA
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:27
Thursday 12th July 2012
The South Africa Mail&Guardian, a newspaper to be congratulated for reporting environmental issues, mentioned yesterday that Namibia was to supply a national zoological park in Cuba with 146 wild animals (valued at N$ 7.5 million). The animals come from 23 species and include white and black rhinos, lions, cheetahs and caracals, impalas, elands… etc. Why?
Two reasons. Cuba assisted Namibia politically, militarily and diplomatically during their war of Independence. Since Independence in 1990, Namibia and Cuba have held bi-annual meetings to discuss economic, scientific, and commercial cooperation. Then, the President of Cuba (not Fidel Castro but his brother Raoul) came to Namibia in 2009, and this present of wildlife was somehow agreed on as a diplomatic gesture. OK, it took some time to fulfil the promise, but it seems now all is arranged, including the presence of Cuban “scientists” who will “observe” the capturing of the wild animals before they are loaded on a plane. Perhaps these “scientists” took a list with them to tick boxes as to what was promised in 2009? They rejected warthogs…
It should be realized that “gifts” of wild animals are an “accepted” means of acknowledging Presidential visits. Botswana as just one example sent (baby) hippos to Malaysia. The little hippos were of course easier to be transported by air, but had to be separated from their mothers during the capture exercise. In Namibia, the gift has the full support of the Minister of Environment and Tourism Minister Netumbo Mandi-Ndaitwah. The Minister was recently given a “Sports Shooting Ambassadors Award” by a pro-hunting organization. “Come to Namibia to hunt” she said. Perhaps the Minister can now be given a “Trade in Wildlife Ambassadors Award”?
The shipment of wildlife by Namibia to Cuba was quite rightly objected to by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in South Africa. The South African NSPCA said “We express disgust at the Namibian Government’s decision to capture animals from the wild to export to Cuba”. So may we now respectfully suggest that the same Society object to canned lion hunting rampant in their own country, the supply of lion bones to Asia, the supply of captive bred tigers for live exports to Asia and trophy hunting in South Africa?
It would be a very good move if the South African NSPCA were to carefully consider what is happening in their own country. Meanwhile, Namibia is very much under our radar. This latest model suggests a model for destructive wildlife utilization rather than a model for conservation.
Tuesday 10th July 2012
We and others have pointed out many times that South Africa is now the prime supplier of rhino horns and lion bones to an apparently insatiable Asian market. We have also pointed out that this increased supply will create an increased demand, and already has stimulated illegal trade and poaching.
South Africa absolves itself of any blame by invoking the right of private captive breeders to trade their products on the international market - but South Africa also facilitates this trade by supplying the necessary export permits. South Africa should well realise there is a significant problem created by allowing ever-increasing amounts of wildlife products to flow to Asia but does nothing about it (Environment Minister Edna Molewa said at least three years ago that she was going to seriously consider the levels of rhino poaching in South Africa – while well over a thousand more rhinos have been poached, she still appears to be seriously stuck in consideration mode).
South Africa also ignores the tremendous impact on wildlife in other African countries by facilitating this wildlife trade (and thereby poaching). Rhinos are now being poached at record levels in Kenya for example. Asian nationals are being detained at Johannesburg airport for attempting to illegally export lion bones, an indication that poaching of lions is already happening and likely to spread.
Not content with rhinos and lions, South Africa now seems to be heavily involved in the trade of tiger parts and live tigers. You might well ask why – tigers are after all not part of the African fauna. But once again, the captive breeders are allowed to do business despite a seemingly useless trade restriction in tigers and their parts by international regulatory organizations like CITES. How does this happen? Basically because CITES allows captive bred tigers a loophole in international trade regulations. But they still need export permits, and South Africa once again is happy to oblige.
So how many tigers did South Africa export? In the live animal export category a total of 131 over the past 11 years (2000-2010). Twenty three tigers were in the hunting trophy export category over the same period – so people actually come to South Africa to shoot tigers? Can you imagine the uproar in Europe if the UK or Germany or France allowed tiger breeders to invite trophy hunters to come and pay significant money to “hunt” tigers? Or if India, a tiger range State, allowed the same? So why is the playing field so different for South Africa?
Where did the live exports go? 54 to the Arab Emirates, and 16 to Vietnam. The Arab Emirates is a well-known staging point for the illegal trade of wildlife from Africa, and any live tiger sent to Vietnam will end up in an Asian Traditional Medicine pot to be stewed up for some tonic.
But here is a real surprise – 28 South African bred tigers went live to Botswana. Why? Is Botswana now also becoming a conduit for the illegal wildlife trade? Or is Botswana getting interested in lucrative tiger and lion breeding to supply Asian markets?
So where did the tiger trophy hunting exports go? Six to the Arab Emirates, three to Norway, two to the UK, two to the USA, and strangely, three to Lebanon?
We have written many times to the Ministry of Environment in South Africa to give an explanation for their agreement to the trade in lion bones. They do not reply, and probably will not on the issue of tigers. We will now question Botswana about their tiger imports – they will also likely not reply.
It seems to me that we should all take affirmative action. South Africa is directly responsible for the wildlife trade in rhino horns and lion bones they say is legal but is directly stimulating poaching. Now they seek to deal in tigers (trophies and live animals). The South African economy depends to a significant extent on tourism income, and much of that tourism has a wildlife component. South Africa will not pay attention to considered advice or questions on banning all exports of lions, rhinos, and tigers, alive or dead, to Asian countries known to be engaged in illegal trading. As responsible tourists might we in future reconsider plans to visit South Africa?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 10:54
Friday 6th July 2012
At a meeting in St Petersburg at the end of 2010 donors came together to raise much needed funds to save tigers. The conference was hosted by the then Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin (now President again) and guests included representatives from the World Bank, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo, and celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Campbell.
If we accept that there are 3,200 tigers left in the world (actually, only two of the nine tiger subspecies have enough individuals to remain possibly viable, four subspecies are extinct, and the other three are critically endangered) – the donors pledged something like £66,000 per live tiger. We all know that pledges are very different than cash in hand, but that seems to represent the worth of a tiger to potential donors.
Now, what we have to also realize is that a half bottle (350ml) of tiger bone wine made in the 1980’s in China is selling at £6,000. So eleven small bottles equals the value of a whole tiger…
Tiger bone wine is made in vats where rice wine is added to a tiger skeleton and allowed to stew. Perhaps a few other ingredients are added, and the product is supposed to stave off chills, improve circulation, eliminate fatigue and help with rheumatism. While not being a practitioner of Asian Traditional Medicine, I would pose to you that a tiger’s bones brewed up in wine is going to be worth 20-30 times more than a live tiger value decided at St Petersburg.
In economic terms, you can go to South Africa and trophy hunt a rhino for about $55,000. The horn is worth $65,000 per kilo, and an average white rhino bears about 6 kilos of horn – so $390,000 – a nice and entirely legal profit that many are taking advantage of. A pair of tusks is similarly worth more than the hunting costs of an elephant. So from a purely economic point of view, the price people are willing to pay for wildlife products exceeds the value of the living animal. And the more rhinos, tigers, elephants are killed, the more valuable their products will become as they get scarcer. And the more those animals will be poached, since the profit margins and benefit to risk ratios keep getting higher.
The disconnect is that we have a real and realizable value placed on dead animals but not on live ones. Is a tiger only worth £66,000 alive? What is the worth of a live wild rhino? How much is a living elephant worth? As long as we cannot decide, we are putting market values on what is dead. You might say that wildlife tourism is worth huge sums to African countries, and that is true. But that value is meaningless to the crime syndicates who cannot even pronounce the word biodiversity properly, let alone know what it means.
This, my friends, is the reality. Animals will become increasingly more market valuable the more they die. There will be someone willing to pay very many millions so he can say he shot the last lion in Africa. Those of us who would like to keep animals alive need to catch up and pay attention. Unless there is positive finance to conserve our biodiversity, we are going to be left with what remains alive in zoos, mounted in museums, and viewed on old wildlife films.
So what can be done? Better policing and law enforcement for sure. Much higher sentences for commercial poachers and much better monitoring of airports and harbours to reduce the inflow of illegal products. No more legal loopholes that allow pseudo-trophy hunting in South Africa and no more sales by South Africa of rhino horns and lion bones to Asian countries. No more legal ivory sales allowed by CITES. Reverse the current benefit to risk ratio for commercial poachers. Just for a start?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:39
Thursday 5th July 2012
In a recent article in the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper, the potentially very destructive (but entirely legal) trade in lion bones to Asia was discussed. One of the people interviewed was Professor Pieter Potgieter, the Chairman of the South African Predator Breeders' Association, a consistent proponent of the right to breed lions for canned hunting purposes.
According to the article, Potgieter defended the industry saying there is little difference between breeding lions and any other mammal. "Chickens are killed by humans. How are lions different from them?" he asked.
To be helpful in telling the difference between a lion and a chicken, we have provided the Professor with a picture of a chicken (above). We would also remind the Professor that last time we checked the taxonomy of chickens, they were listed with ostriches as birds, not mammals. We believe crocodiles are reptiles, and butterflies are insects, but perhaps not in South Africa?
So what is the difference between a lion bred in captivity and a chicken bred in captivity? The Professor’s answers indicate that he might be a closet philosopher, or perhaps a closet Buddhist. The answer is actually relatively simple. Chickens are bred in captivity to provide non-vegetarians with meat. But lions are bred in captivity to provide “hunters” with “sport” and “enjoyment” and “thrills” – see the LionAid blog "Theme Parks with live ammunition" . Chickens provide eggs and are killed for protein, and have been domesticated for about 8,000 years. The world population of chickens was estimated to be 24 billion in 2003. Captive-bred lions are killed for fun by rich Europeans and Americans, and the wild population is estimated at about 20,000 on the whole African continent. Canned hunting perhaps took off not more than a dozen years ago, and is a bargain-basement option for lion trophy “hunters”.
Perhaps the Professor, if he thinks captive breeding of lions is no different than the breeding of chickens, could begin the first canned chicken hunting safari?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:34
Sunday 1st July 2012
I was alerted to a Facebook site posting pictures of captive raised lions ready to be trophy hunted. It is becoming equivalent to ordering from a takeaway menu at a Chinese restaurant on the internet – I’ll have one from menu B, two from menu C and I’ll be there tomorrow.
This of course all happening in South Africa where game ranches and captive breeding programmes earn an estimated $100 million per year from people willing to shoot animals confined inside fences. It is not going to go away without international pressure, it is a successful business formula, it works.
These are theme parks with live ammunition. They advertise themselves with good food, good wine, a lovely campfire chat in the evening, thatched chalets with airconditioning, and lots of shooting of live animals during the day. You are driven to the animals by car, there are helpful people to assist you to identify your targets and set up the rest for your rifle with a telescopic sight, and then shake your hand afterwards for a job well done. They provide video clips with satisfied clients, all smiles posing with their trophies. On one site, an ecstatic client standing over a killed captive bred lion said in an American accent:
“That is the dream of dreams. Doesn’t get any better than this. Full-sized male African lion”.
Like it or not, and even “true hunters” readily condemn this type of sitting-duck hunting, these theme parks are here to stay. Other countries in southern Africa are establishing game “ranching” to get a piece of this paid-to-order business.
What is interesting is that some would call it “conservation”. At the deservedly roundly condemned and useless Rio+20 Convention, Bernard Loze, the head of CIC – a pro-hunting lobby – mentioned this:
So the theme park hunter is now part of a green economy according to Bernard Loze? Oh well… they must sleep better at night.
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:47
Saturday 10th March 2012
South Africa has led the field of “conservation”, or so they say, by placing wildlife species in private hands. With the tremendous growth in game farms (largely as a result of environmental destruction by previous cattle ranching on those lands), there was a significant demand for wild species. These animals were supplied by auctions among the private owners as well as the State selling “surplus” wild animals to private individuals.
In the case of rhinos, this scheme of private ownership has been hailed as a great conservation success. There is frequent mention made of the great increase in both black and white rhino numbers since they were placed on game ranches. Indeed, the overall rhino numbers in South Africa now exceeds 22,000 animals, and a significant percentage of these animals are in private hands.
However, it is questionable to what extent such “private” rhinos contribute to conservation of the species. These animals are virtually all bought, sold and traded much like domestic cattle, and only exist because of the commercial value they represent to their owners. Owners had in the past two main options to profit from rhinos on their land – photographic tourism and trophy hunting. Now, however, there is the option of selling horns, and there is a move among private owners to call for legal trade in horns given their rising monetary value in Asia.
South Africa already has an established legal trade in rhino horns and trophies; for example, CITES trade records indicate an increasing trend in SA horn exports (17 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 90 in 2009, and 158 in 2010 – note that 2010 numbers are all preliminary at this stage since records are still being compiled). Where are the horns exported to? Many different countries, but increasingly to Vietnam (2 in 2007, 2 in 2008, 62 in 2009, and so far 93 in 2010). It should also be noted that Vietnam is becoming a major destination for rhino hunting trophies. This is strange as Vietnam (unlike let’s say the USA, Spain, Russia, and France) is not known as a country with many avid trophy hunters. It should have been clear long ago to those who issued the permits that these were all “pseudo” trophy hunts – the price that could be fetched for the horns once they arrived in Vietnam far exceeded the trophy hunting costs. Indeed, it has been reported that many of the “trophy hunters” who arrived to collect their rhinos on permit had never shot a gun before and relied on the accompanying “professional” hunters to shoot the rhino for them.
Basically, South Africa opened the floodgates by engaging in legal commercial trade of rhino horns and hunting trophies with countries like Vietnam. At a very basic level, economic theory involves supply and demand. We all know the situation is more complicated than that, and we can also say that fuel feeds a fire. Indeed, there is a direct relationship between the increased trade in rhino horns and “pseudo” trophy hunting with an increased level of poaching (83 rhinos poached in SA in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, and 448 in 2011). Once a supply is established, the demand grows by whatever means of delivery.
So how does this affect lions? Well, what we are seeing now from CITES, SA lion export records are parallel to what was seen for rhinos a few years ago. Lion bones are increasingly important to the Asian traditional medicine trade – largely because the tigers that used to supply bones are now a bit thin on the ground. In recent years, South Africa has replied to this demand. In 2009, 250kg of lion bones were exported to Laos, followed by 556 bones in 2010. As these are CITES export records, we cannot tell you how 566 individual bones correspond to 250kg of bones, but only report to you that very few bones were exported to Laos before this date. In 2010, 14 live lions were exported to Vietnam – why? In 2010 (so far- see above for reliability of these recent numbers) 29 skeletons went to Laos and 19 to Vietnam. Laos received 90 lion teeth and 6 skulls in 2010, and the numbers will increase.
Also worrying and similar to the rhino scenario – Laos has now become a lion trophy hunting country. Yes indeed, Laotians have discovered a very recent desire to go to South Africa to “hunt” lions – 43 trophies so far were exported in 2010 versus zero trophies in all previous years. Reminiscent of the Vietnamese rhino hunters?
The South African authorities at the Department of Environmental Affairs tell us this is all above board and largely represents bones from lions in captive breeding programmes (canned lions). We say the demand has been fuelled, and since history tends to repeat itself, we might begin to see an upsurge of lion poaching incidents parallel to current rhino poaching.
Our message to South Africa? Please do not allow yourself, legal as you might claim it is, to get engaged in exports to Asian countries demanding lion bones and derivatives. It will stimulate an illegal market involving wild lions in all African range states. It will promote poaching of lions as it has stimulated poaching of rhinos by allowing exports to fuel Asian markets – and that market for African wildlife products is insatiable. It might be said the bones derive from captive bred lions, an industry promoted to satisfy trophy hunters by shooting lions in enclosures. Well done for commerce.
Asian markets used to be supplied by Asian species. Those are now gone, lost, poached to extinction, and Asia has turned to Africa. Asian markets put a premium on wild animal products as they are “stronger” than captive raised animals. Remember that the “tiger farms” in China raise animals under deplorable conditions to be killed for the medicine market much like lions are raised under deplorable conditions to be killed for the hunting market. And finally, remember that there are as few lions on the African continent as there are rhinos in South Africa alone.
1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 22:15