Pieter's Blog

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

The hunting industry and money

Monday 25th November 2013

The hunting industry and money


                             I’m the King of Spain (on the right) and a past patron of WWF


It seems that if you are a trophy hunter you are required to learn some phrases by heart. Or perhaps keep them on a laminated card in your wallet and whip them out when you quickly need to make points about the benefits of hunting. You need not necessarily believe what you say, but you must practice in the mirror at least once a week to ensure an earnest-sounding delivery. 


These are the top ten phrases:

  1. Hunters are the best conservationists. 
  2. Without the income from hunting, land would be lost to wildlife and overrun by poachers and cattle.
  3. Hunting contributes vast amounts of money to poor rural communities which would otherwise be destitute. In addition, trophy hunting provides these communities with badly needed protein in the form of meat. Hunters provide communities with schools, clinics and potable water.
  4. Hunting provides enormous sums of money to national economies. One hunter brings income equivalent to about 100 photographic tourists.
  5. Hunters boldly go where no other tourist would dare – horrible landscapes without any smidgeon of scenery and where tsetse flies are the size of sparrows. Or crows even. Without hunters such land would have no value.
  6. Without hunters, many species would now be extinct. Because of hunters, rhinos have been saved in South Africa, previously rare species are now common on game farms, and ducks blacken the sky in the USA as their habitat has increased because of hunting income. 
  7. Hunters contribute millions of dollars annually to scientific research to conserve species. Hunters contribute more individually to wildlife research projects than any anti-hunter.
  8. Hunting organizations have support from major conservation organizations. WWF and the IUCN support sustainable utilization and many others as well. All these scientists cannot be wrong. 
  9. Unless you are a vegetarian and own no leather products, and you feed your pet cat/dog rice it means you kill animals. So do not point hypocritical fingers at us.
  10. Humans have hunted for hundreds of thousands of years. It is a human right to hunt.


Hunters might overstate their case, but they do work hard to present their point of view and they do have some facts right. They also have the ear(s) of many in African governments and those in the USA, the EU and the BRIC countries. They have very many sponsors on the Forbes Rich List. They are supported by many royal families. They award prizes to Ministers from African countries who support trophy hunting. When Botswana placed a moratorium on lion hunting in 2001, the Safari Club International delivered a letter to the Botswana President urging him to reverse the decision signed by former US President George Bush Snr, former Vice President Dan Quayle, and former General Norman Schwarzkopf. Big guns. When Zambia placed a moratorium on lion hunting the SCI paid for Minister Masebo to attend their convention and raised $1.5 million for lion “conservation” in a single night. Hunting organizations have specialized and well-paid lobbyists who stalk their prey in the corridors of power. Hunting organizations fund scientists and unearth economists to produce glowing reports about the benefits of hunting.


Hunters have deep pockets, big names, many connections and huge focus.



Conservation organizations, while they might represent the vast majority of people who do not see the benefit of trophy hunting, are less focused. Many are these days spending their time and money on illegal wildlife trade issues, combating poaching of commercially valuable species like elephants and rhinos, and attempting to change minds in consumer countries about buying rhino horn and ivory. Meanwhile others dally with the legalization of the same products. 


These conservation organizations seek support from “celebrities” like Leonardo di Caprio, whose foundation then donates money back to WWF – so round we go again. 


Some hunting organizations are shaping up. But it would seem that the majority of hunting operators are resistant to change, especially when it comes to adequately compensating communities and playing fair with disclosure about their income and how effectively they conserve versus consumptively utilize wildlife.  


Edna Molewa, Minister of Environment in South Africa said recently that hunting benefited the South African economy to the tune of R6.2 billion per year – that translates to about $615 million. Another estimate put the benefit of foreign trophy hunting to South Africa at R811 million in 2012, or about $80.5 million. That leaves a shortfall of $534.5 million between the two estimates. 


All is fair in love and war in terms of making claims, but let’s have some realistic economic assessments. And then let’s objectively evaluate what are now opposing positions of benefits of hunting versus non-consumptive tourism and most important of all the relative conservation benefits under one model or another.   


It is in the interest of everyone to ensure wildlife exists for many future generations. So let’s have the hunters engage in an honest and transparent debate rather than what they are instructed on the cards in their wallets. We will await your response.


Picture credit: http://bit.ly/1bii6Fd


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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 17:49

LionAid proposes 10 Point Lion Conservation Programme

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.



 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. - See more at: http://www.lionaid.org/blog/#sthash.FDoAV1Yr.dpuf

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:48

Whither CITES?

Monday 14th January 2013

Whither CITES?

In March this year CITES delegates and member NGOs will gather in Bangkok for their triennial meeting. As we know, CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. What we might not know is that CITES depends on our taxes for survival. What we might also not know is while CITES is given considerable credence (perhaps by their own PR department) in terms of conservation, their real effectiveness has been minimal. After all, the CITES mandate is to ensure that legal international trade in animals and plants (valued at hundreds of billions of dollars) does not endanger the conservation status of the species involved. CITES also seeks to curb the illegal trade, likewise worth billions of dollars. 


As with other International Conventions like those on climate change and biodiversity, CITES has become increasingly bureaucratic. There are commissions, working groups, advisory groups and lots of discussion. As an example, a Periodic Review of the status of lion populations in Africa called for in July 2011 by the CITES Animals Committee has still not been completed, despite the relatively simple task assigned. LionAid knows that over 75% of trade in lion products (hunting trophies) is excluded via the loophole of “personal and household effects” given to hunters – in other words, these are not considered as “international trade” by CITES and are not allowed to be considered as an impact of trade on the species. The mind boggles.


CITES has not been effective in stemming the illegal trade in rhino horns (and indeed allowed a legal loophole for trade with the “pseudo-hunting” of rhinos in South Africa); has not been effective in preventing the illegal trade in ivory (and allowed past sales since the accepted international ivory ban); has failed to affect the illegal trade in tiger and lion products; has botched in making any change in the illegal trade in pangolins, seahorses, snake skins, deep sea corals, tunas, dolphins, rare birds and plants… the list is endless.


CITES conventions have become increasingly expensive talk shops. NGOs seek donor credibility and funding by attending, but after very many years (CITES was formed in 1975) we must now look very carefully at achievements. We are now seeing conservation NGOs like WWF opposing good proposals to CITES by the USA to end polar bear trophy hunting for example. Japan blocks all efforts to end trade in endangered tunas. Norway, Iceland and Japan oppose any efforts to control whale consumption. China opposes much of everything including the trade in shark fins.


We are living in years of austerity and accountability. So why is so much money spent by us on a Convention that should perhaps be scrapped? Also, CITES has no teeth – member nations can oppose decisions and continue trading as before, and always use political pressure to achieve vested interests often contrary to scientifically guided conservation proposals.


Let’s propose an alternative. Sovereign nations are free to set their own conservation rules. Recently, Zambia announced a moratorium on all trophy hunting of large cats. The USA does not allow imports of cheetah hunting trophies from Africa. Europe and the USA allow no trading of ivory. Botswana will ban trophy hunting in 2014. Conservation starts at home and national decisions are both more binding and effective than trifling CITES edicts. It is after all national resources that form the basis of international trade?


Picture credit:  http://www.africanskyhunting.co.za/trophies/lion-hunting.html


If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, financially support us to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:30

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

Wednesday 5th December 2012

Conservation organizations fail conservation?

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.


Picture credit: thestockholmshelf.com

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:50

Rhino horn trafficking, Vietnam, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Poland - widespread connections?

Kenya recently proposed to CITES to have a trophy hunting moratorium placed on South African white rhinos. The proposal will be considered at the upcoming CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok in March 2013 and if approved, the moratorium will be instituted until 2019.

In the proposal  Kenya mentions that despite some progress made by South Africa in instituting more demanding control measures including development of an electronic database for licence applications, mandatory registration of existing rhino horn stockpiles, developing bilateral treaties to improve law enforcement, increasing penalties for those caught, improving intelligence gathering and sharing, better customs control, etc, etc – the rate of rhino poaching continues to increase. In 2010, 333 rhinos were poached, in 2011, 448, and there are predictions that 2012 could end with perhaps 590 rhinos killed. Kenya is of the opinion that such poaching has resonated across borders and that the recent upsurge in rhinos poached in Kenya is directly linked to a problem made in South Africa.


Kenya acknowledges that rhino poaching should jointly be addressed by the implicated consumer states – China and mainly Vietnam – including measures to much more rigorously curtail the activities of criminals involved in the illegal trade. Various reports coming from independent investigators have shown that rhino horn products and horns themselves are widely available and traded in Vietnam. A joint solution seems well over the horizon, hence Kenya’s proposed moratorium.


Kenya has expressed great concern about the very strong possibility that South African hunting trophies offer a legal pathway for criminal networks to obtain rhino horn, to launder illegal rhino horn, and that the trophy hunting loophole stimulates overall demand for a product that should not be involved in any trade in the first place.


It is clear that rhino trophy hunting has been greatly abused, and in many cases falls into the category of “pseudo hunting”.  Such hunting only is available for the 25% of white rhinos in South Africa that are in private hands, but has shown a great surge in “popularity” in recent years among Vietnamese “hunters”. Permits are issued by the provincial authorities and many cases have been recorded where “hunters” arrived who did not own guns, had not shot a gun before, and in one famous case were recruited from the ranks of Thai prostitutes working in South Africa.


In addition, while CITES prohibits any commercial use of trophies, this is clearly ignored in Vietnam where the purpose of the hunt is not the trophy but the products that can be derived from the horn. CITES recently asked Vietnam to account for the trophies imported – rather like asking someone to account for their imported caviar long since consumed. Already there seem to be glaring discrepancies – TRAFFIC reports state that 657 horns were exported from South Africa while Vietnamese import numbers only record 170. Also, Vietnamese “hunters” spent an estimated $22 million on rhino hunting permits between 2003 and April this year when South Africa decided not to issue further permits to Vietnamese nationals. Between July 2009 and April 2012 185 Vietnamese came to South Africa to shoot rhinos (and not a single other species), comprising 48% of the total number of rhino hunters from the rest of the world.


It seems impossible for South Africa not to notice this trend and put two and two together – flocks of “hunters” descending from a country known to be predominantly involved in the illegal trade of rhino horn suddenly gaining a great interest in trophy hunting? And then, as the trophy “hunting” by those Vietnamese took off in 2006 also not to notice that there was a possible link to the ever increasing rhino poaching levels 2007/2008?


The Kenya proposal was sent to various parties for review prior to submission. South Africa (not surprisingly) did not support the proposal citing a violation of that its sovereign rights. Namibia also opposed on the basis that the proposed moratorium would not “add value” to the conservation of the species but did not explain further.  Those replies are entirely predictable and do not address Kenya’s valid concerns to close a glaring loophole that contributes directly to and stimulates the illegal trade. What was more surprising was that the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group (based and perhaps biased in South Africa) also voiced several lines of opposition including that it would cause financial losses to the private owners.


South Africa’s decision to prohibit Vietnamese nationals from gaining rhino hunting permits took time and was openly discussed before it happened. Not surprisingly, those making huge financial gain from the pseudo-trophy hunting business anticipated such restrictions and made alternate plans – and may have had such plans already in place before the restriction. LionAid has frequently commented on the rapidly growing rhino trophy import numbers to other countries that, like Vietnam, seemed to have little or no interest in rhino trophy hunting before 2005. Kenya commented on these as well – the Czech Republic (rhino trophy imports 2000-2004: none, 2005-2010: 21), Poland (2 and 22), and Russia (13 and 118). Denmark is also interested: 2 trophies 2000-2004 and 36 trophies 2005-2010. The South African Department of Environmental Affairs has now seen a rise by 300% of trophy hunting applications from the USA in 2012 compared to 2010.


Making the assumption that the products of pseudo-trophy hunts are ultimately destined for Vietnam, there is a clear circumstantial line of evidence connecting applications for rhino hunting permits by residents in such seemingly disparate countries  – their resident Vietnamese communities. The USA has the largest immigrant Vietnamese population numbering well over 1.5 million mostly residing in California and Texas. Poland has the third-largest Vietnamese community in Europe after France and Germany (both those countries also import rhino horn trophies). Russia could have as many as 150,000 Vietnamese residents. The Vietnamese are the largest immigrant community in the Czech Republic with about 83,000 residents – and the Vietnamese lead nationwide drug-related crime statistics. A Polish member of CITES informed us earlier this year that all rhino trophy horns recently imported into Poland have now been reported as “stolen”.  Following a number of recent incidents involving rhino horns being pilfered from Czech museums and institutions, the police issued an alert to other European countries to maintain extra vigilance.


While such connections between rhino horn traders in Vietnam and Vietnamese immigrants in other nations can only be alleged, there does seem to be a pattern. It could be further investigated by determining whether those so recently interested in joining the ranks of eager rhino trophy hunters in Russia, Denmark and the Czech Republic are still in possession of their legally acquired CITES trophies? And perhaps this same level of scrutiny could be applied to the USA as well? Or, as seems the case in Poland, have many such trophies disappeared into the mists of unexplained thefts?


Image: huntinginafrica.co.za

1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:50

"Chasing what is already gone"

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

This is the title of a recent song by Mary Carpenter, a wonderful performer/artist. Does it pertain to conservation?


Take a look at the IUCN Red List. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of those species on the Critically Endangered list have no future. The IUCN is good at making lists, but performs poorly in terms of taking positive action. The IUCN has lots of Specialist Groups to draw up these lists, but that seems the sum total of their responsibility.


You might well say that you have never heard of the Oxapampa Poison Frog or the Tai Toad. It could well be that their extinction means little to you. We evaluate what is important to us with anthropomorphic bias, but even then there is no guarantee that we are not chasing what has already gone. We have ignored the plight of many species that share our planet for too long for any meaningful recovery – or put our faith in stewardship by organisations that have not delivered?


Let’s look at the charismatic megaspecies. Orangutans, Mountain Gorillas, Bonobo Chimpanzees – all gasping their last breaths. The Javan Rhinoceros is virtually extinct, the Vietnamese Rhinoceros is extinct along with the Western Black Rhinoceros and the Northern White Rhinoceros. Among the nine subspecies of tiger, four (Bali, Caspian, Javan, South China) are extinct, three (Sumatran, Malaysian, Indochina) are critically endangered, and two (Bengal and Siberian) might perhaps have some viability. A recent donor conference “pledged” £250 million to once again save tigers – that is what experts said was now needed despite WWF's work to try and save them via “Project Tiger” since 1972. Polar bears, Panda bears, Sun Bears… you know what is happening.


In the 1960’s there might have been 200,000 lions on the African continent. There could only be 20,000 now. Trophy hunting, human/livestock conflict, habitat loss, prey loss and diseases have all contributed. Genetically unique lions in western Africa might be down to about 800 individuals, probably a lot fewer. They still have not been listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered, CITES still allows trade, WWF supports wild lion hunting under certain conditions…


Lions are on the brink, not yet over the edge. Time is running out – the hourglass is almost empty, but it can be refilled. We need functional protected areas, a determination by lion range States, a much better evaluation of the “sustainability” of trophy hunting, no more exports from South Africa of lion bones to Asia, and a big wake-up call for the world. Otherwise we will be chasing what is already gone once again for yet another species.


Your funding support can make this happen - please consider LionAid.

Click here to see the many ways you can donate to LionAid.


Picture credit: Big Life Foundation, Tanzania

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:57

Lion population number declines - problem animal control or trophy hunting?

Estimates of the numbers of African lions remaining on the continent have been assembled by a diversity of different methods. There is no estimate for lion numbers before 1950, but
several sources can be cited for estimates in the recent past:


• Myers (1975) wrote “Since 1950, their numbers may well have been cut in half, perhaps to as low as 200,000 in all or even less.”
• In the early 1990s, IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group members made educated “guesstimates” of 30,000 to 100,000 for the African lion population (Nowell and Jackson, 1996).
• Ferreras and Cousins (1996) developed a GIS-based model to predict African lion range and numbers; based on their data sources on extent of agriculture and pastoralism they selected 1980 as the foundation year for their predicted African lion population of 75,800.
• Chardonnet et al (2002) estimated an average total of 39,373 lions.
• Bauer and van der Merwe (2004) estimated an average total of 23,000 lions.
• The IUCN (2006) estimated a total of between 29,995 and 36,495 lions, or an average of 33,245 lions. It must be noted that since those numbers were published, new estimates have reduced IUCN numbers by 60 – 70% in western Africa alone based on actual counts. 


By whatever method of estimation, lion numbers clearly have susbstantially decreased in Africa. There is no doubt that expansion of human and livestock populations, reduction of prey and habitat, and conflict issues have historically contributed to the great declines.


However, despite these declines, lions continue to be trophy hunted in 11 African lion range states (Botswana currently has a moratorium in place, but allowed lion trophy hunting in the past). Over the past ten years ending 2009 when reliable records end a total of 6651 trophies were exported according to CITES. These do not include numbers of lion trophies shot by resident hunters and thus not exported. Lion mortality by trophy hunting should thus be considered a major contributory component to their overall decline in numbers, but this is largely ignored by the IUCN and CITES. In addition, this source of mortality is only peripherally considered by “experts”.


Historical declines in lion populations doubtless were due to all the factors listed above. But we are now at the point where lion populations are so decreased that we should consider carefully the more current relevant threats to their populations. And trophy hunting mortality statistics figure prominently, especially as they include an exclusive percentage of the population – adult and subadult males. Such animals are crucially important to the reproductive potential of lion populations, and high rates of male turnover in lion prides can significantly affect lion cub survivorship. 


So let’s look at some statistics of lion problem animal control versus trophy hunting mortality. This information is based on numbers provided by informed individuals as well as official numbers from wildlife department records. This is the same quality of data used to provide continental and national lion population numbers, and therefore should be as relevant as similar data presently guiding IUCN and CITES evaluations to conclude trade in lions (trophy hunting) is sustainable.


An overview for four countries from which information is available is presented in this table and details of the entries are discussed below:






Conflict kills and years of estimation

Trophy hunting kills from CITES export data


Chardonnet 2009

15 per annum 2006-2008

21 p.a. 2005-2009


Stander 2000, and independent assessment

22-30 p.a. 1975-1994

25 p.a. 2005-2009


Rutina 2000 and independent assessment

19-25 p.a. 1992-2000

51 p.a. 1992-2000



73-150 p.a. 2000-2009

196 p.a. 2000-2009



Past statements about the primary causes of lion mortality:


1. IUCN 2006: Many in the cat conservation community, including the Cat SG and its affiliated African Lion Working Group (ALWG), did not consider the primary causes of this suspected decline to be trade-related (Nowell, 2004), and priorities for lion conservation have been identified as resolving human-lion conflicts and stemming loss of habitat and wild prey.

2. IUCN 2006: Indiscriminate killing of lions and depletion of their prey are the most prevalent and serious threats in Eastern and Southern Africa, followed by small lion population size. Habitat conversion and livestock encroachment also rank as significant threats. This Strategy emphasizes that lion trophy hunting is an important management tool that can provide benefits to local people and revenues to government conservation authorities, but stipulates that best practices should be implemented in the industry to ensure sustainability.

3. IUCN 2006: The top threats identified were indiscriminate killing of lions, hunting of lion prey for subsistence or bush meat trade, small population size, and livestock encroachment. Improperly managed trophy hunting was also considered to be adversely affecting several lion populations. The technical session … ranked a set of factors according to expected impact on the viability of all lion populations in the region. Trophy hunting was excluded from this analysis due to the difficulty of separating potentially negative biological impacts on lion populations from improperly managed offtakes from potentially positive socio-economic impacts on lion conservation. Properly managed trophy hunting was viewed as an important solution to long-term lion conservation.

4. IUCN Red List: A species population reduction of approximately 30% is suspected over the past two decades (= approximately three Lion generations). The causes of this reduction (primarily indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock, coupled with prey base depletion), are unlikely to have ceased.

5. Packer 2004: By far the most important threat to lions comes from problem animal control, and by putting lions on Appendix 1, the Kenyans would do much more harm than good. Tanzania has more lions than any other country in the world, and the majority of these animals live outside the national parks. If lion trophy hunting were stopped, they would have no economic value, and there would no longer be any incentive to conserve the lions. Opponents of trophy hunting have provided no alternative mechanism for funding the large-scale conservation efforts required to protect the species.

6. Frank et al, 2006: One report has blamed a local population decline on poorly regulated trophy hunting (Loveridge and Macdonald, 2003), but this problem appears to be restricted to Zimbabwe  and extensive retaliatory killing, snaring and habitat loss in the surrounding area are likely to be the major conservation risks to lions. Our opinion is that retaliatory and pre-emptive killing of lions by rural people, particularly livestock owners is the single greatest threat to lion populations.


7. Lion Conservation.org: The most urgent threat to lions today is the widespread use of poison in retaliation for depredation on livestock.


8. Whitman et al, 2007: Control of problem animals, antagonistic killing, poaching, and loss of habitat are more serious threats to lion conservation than legalized hunting. Control of problem animals represents the single greatest factor responsible for lion decline outside protected areas today.

9. Packer, 2010: Greatest threats to lions: Loss of prey, persecution in retaliation for cattle killing and man-eating and sport hunting.


But to what extent is retaliatory killing a major factor in overall lion mortality? Certainly it occurs, and apart from the actions of official wildlife department problem animal control units, it is illegal in most African countries (though rarely prosecuted  - and a troubling phenomenon in some countries (e.g. Namibia, Zimbabwe)  is the legalization of problem animal hunts sold by trophy hunting operators to clients, an issue that has little to do with problem animal control). Illegal killing is therefore kept secret, and accurate numbers are all but unavailable. Nevertheless, estimates can be made of the scope and extent of such retaliations. There are two means of evaluation – the actual threat lions pose to livestock, and the numbers and estimations of retaliatory and cultural killings from a variety of sources.


Livestock depredation by lions with real data

How important is the threat from lions in terms of cattle depredation that would result in such retaliatory killing? A study by Laurence Frank in the Laikipia region of Kenya where livestock, wild herbivores and predators co-occur is instructive. In 1998, Frank estimated that predator (lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas) depredation killed about 0.8% of livestock on large scale ranches, and an average of 1.7% of pastoralist herds. In contrast, disease killed 2.4% of herds on large scale ranches, and 8.9% among pastoralists’ herds. Frank did not mention effects of drought. In another study, Maclennan et al (2009) examined a compensation scheme established on the Mbirikani Group Ranch, also in Kenya. There, 55% of claimants attempted to be compensated by the predator fund for livestock lost in the bush. The pastoral grazers on the group ranch lost an average of 206 cattle, 22 donkeys, and 503 sheep/goats per year to predators, or about 2.3% of the herd. Eighty percent of the kills were attributed to hyenas, leopards and cheetahs, and 7% to lions – equivalent to losses from jackals (7%) and buffalos and elephants (6%). Despite compensation, about one lion was killed in each year of the study, and no mention was made of hyenas, leopards, or cheetahs being killed.


Other studies show similar trends – depredation specifically attributable to lions is low, and is far exceeded by other sources of mortality and loss like disease, drought, stock theft, and just wandering off. In addition, pastoralists are notoriously capricious when identifying sources of mortality. A study conducted by Christian del Valle (MS Thesis, University of Kent) showed that in Botswana, reported attacks by lions rose from 21% to 61% 1995-2003, those by leopards from 11% to 29%, and those by crocodiles from 0.7% to 8%, while hyena attacks declined from 52% to 2%. These increases and decreases were solely based on a decision by the Botswana government in 1997 to exclude hyenas from compensation and only allow payments for depredations by crocodiles, lions, and leopards. The livestock owners took note and significantly altered their reporting to only include “compensatable” predators. Similar over-attribution of livestock depredation to lions in other countries is highly likely.


Overall, better herding practices and the building of stronger night enclosures for livestock (bomas) would alleviate many problems. At present, especially in semi-arid countries like Botswana, the current free-range approach to livestock upkeep is begging for consequential depredation by any predator. In Tanzania, Packer and Ikanda (2008) noted a substantial difference in mortality among livestock herded by children versus adults. Simple and straightforward practices could reduce much predator/livestock conflict and therefore reduce retaliatory killings. However, with increasing human and livestock populations, the long-term viability of any co-existing predator population must be considered slim. 


Human/lion mortality


Much has been made by Packer and others about the estimated number of human deaths in Tanzania from lion attacks. In total, Packer recorded 563 human mortalities from 1990 to 2004, or about 37 per year, translating to about 8 people per 10 million in the Tanzanian population. The attacks were registered from numerous districts in the country. Without diminishing the tragedy of those deaths they have to be put into perspective as they have led to a demonization of lions and a strange justification for trophy hunting – essentially the sport hunters are doing the rural communities a favour by keeping man-eaters under control. Not only is this complete nonsense, but human deaths caused by lions are actually miniscule when compared to other sources of annual human mortality in Tanzania.


For a short list, in Tanzania 193 to 1499 people per year die of rabies-infected dog bites, 600 from snake bites, 1,900 from falls, 4,700 from drowning, 6,000 from asthma, 13,000 from road accidents, 14,000 from violence/homicide, 21,000 from malaria, 23,000 from diabetes, 35,000 from diarrhoea, and 122,000 from HIV/Aids/tuberculosis.  Tanzania ranks 21st highest among 220 countries in terms of an infant mortality at a rate of 6.7 per 1000 live births as of 2010. The number of humans killed by lions in Tanzania per year (37) is equivalent to the number of people killed in the USA per 100,000 inhabitants by lightning strikes. Lion attacks might make the news much as shark attacks do (over the past 50 years, only one person has been killed by a shark each year in Australia compared to 87 people who drown at beaches annually), but in reality the number of people killed by lions in Tanzania is miniscule compared to the hyperbole that such attacks have generated.


Most people killed by lions are out at night and unprotected. Packer and colleagues were able to assign specific times to such attacks – after sunset and between 6pm and 10pm in the evening on moonless nights. People were out at such times protecting their crops from elephants and other herbivores, and were attacked either in the fields (lion were also hunting crop raiding animals like bush pigs at the time) or on their journeys back and forth from their villages. As with livestock depredation, there would seem to be practical solutions available to avoid such mortality. But as mentioned above, the long-term probability of a dangerous predator population continuing to live in close contact with humans must be considered insignificant .  


Cultural/traditional lion killings separate from lion/livestock issues


In Tanzania, Ikanda and Packer (2008) recorded incidences of cultural lion killings (Ala-mayo) by resident Maasai in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Maasai morani (warriors) engage in such killings, though outlawed in the 1970’s, to demonstrate their courage and strength. Ikanda and Packer note that such killings are illegal and therefore not readily disclosed, but were able to document a minimum average of 2.2 lions killed annually for purely cultural purposes in the Conservation Area between 1985-2005. The authors noted an increase in such killings conforming to periods of time when new age classes were inducted as morani.  Such cultural killings not only pertain to the Maasai, and could be widespread across eastern and some parts of southern Africa. These cultural killings have little to do with retaliation, though Ikanda and Packer claim that stock-raiding lions can be killed for both cultural and retaliatory purposes.  They also note that such cultural killings, 2.2 lions per year, are much lower than trophy hunting quotas (24 males per year) in neighbouring hunting concessions.


Problem animal killings of lions – the available estimates


• Mozambique – Chardonnet (2009): 45 lions killed as problem animals 2006-2008, 15 per year.


• Namibia – Stander (2000): 30 lions killed per year as problem animals based on data from 1965-1994 collected by the Etosha Ecological Institute. These data are not particularly relevant to current problem animal offtake and trophy hunting rates as very few lions now survive outside Etosha National Park. Based on skin sales (likely all derived from problem animals), an average of 22 lions per annum were killed 1975-1994. 


• Kenya – Wildlife Extra: 18 lions killed/poisoned in 2010. Kenya has imposed a trophy hunting ban since 1977. Media attention to each death by poisoning is high, but the overall numbers of lions killed in Kenya in recent years for retaliation for livestock depredation is decreasing.


• Tanzania – Ikanda 2008: 73-77 lions persecuted in high human-lion conflict areas in 2007.


• Tanzania – Tarangire lion project: 13 lions killed per year in Tarangire region 2001-2004.


• Tanzania –  Tarangire lion project: 37 lions killed annually January 2004-July 2007 in Tarangire area.


• Tanzania – Personal communication : between 100-150 lions per year


• Botswana –  Rutina 2000: 19 lions killed per year as problem animals 1992-1998 in zones bordering protected areas in northern Botswana, most of them on the southern perimeter of the Delta.


• Botswana – Personal communication: 1999-2000, approximately 25 lions per year in the Okavango region.


Again, a picture very different emerges from that painted by those who feel trophy hunting is a minor source of lion mortality.


In Mozambique, 15 lions are killed as problem animals per year versus a minimum (data suggest several lions shot in Mozambique per year are declared for export in South Africa) of 21 trophies taken each year 2005-2009.


In Tanzania, numbers vary considerably, but 73 -150 lions have been proposed as a yearly problem animal control offtake versus an average of 196 lions taken as trophies taken on average between 2000-2009.


In Namibia an adjusted average of 22 lions is proposed per year for 1975-1994 problem animal mortality versus an average trophy yearly offtake of 25 lions 2005-2009. Lion trophy hunting is increasing in Namibia (by decade, 1975-1984: 12 lions, 1985- 1994: 127 lions, 1995- 2004: 121 lions, 2005 – 2009 (5yrs): 123 lions already and thus a projected decade total of 246 lions ). Few lions now remain outside strictly protected areas in Namibia (Stander 2010). 


In Botswana, 19 lions were killed per annum as problem animals 1992-1998, and perhaps 25 from 1999-2000, but during the same time 59 lions on average were exported as trophies. 


Overall, trophy lion exports exceed problem animal control numbers per annum in all those countries.




On the whole, the decrease in lion numbers in Africa could in past years have been correctly attributed to loss of habitat, loss of prey, and conflict. More recently, however, it is becoming increasingly evident that the remaining lion population has decreased to the point where other sources of mortality are becoming ever more significant. In their current small numbers, lions have negligible effects on actual livestock losses and threats to human lives. Lions, however, are perceived with past prejudices and are still subsequently killed out of proportion to the actual depredation they inflict on livestock. For some countries it is difficult to disentangle cultural killing from retribution.


In summary, sport hunting is now becoming the major source of lion mortality, and as the majority of trophies taken are from adult and subadult males, the practice is expected to have significant consequences on reproduction among hunted populations. The more relevant data becomes available, the more that this increasingly anachronistic practice should cease for the overall conservation benefit of the species.   









Image: http://cb3communications.com/?attachment_id=1168

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:02

  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