Welcome to Pieter Kat's official LionAid blog. Here you can follow Pieter's opinions, thoughts, insights and ideas on saving lions.
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
Wednesday 29th August 2012
The past few weeks have been “interesting” to say the least in terms of global wildlife conservation efforts. The news can maybe best be described as a weather report here in the UK – rain, occasionally heavy, with a few sunny spells. Let’s have a look at some reports:
• Vietnam, despite all evidence to the contrary, denied being the main rhino horn market . The Vietnamese authorities and “conservation experts” like Do Quang Tung, CITES deputy Director for Vietnam, said that a report by the trade monitoring organization TRAFFIC implicating Vietnam as a destination for poached rhino horns in South Africa was not objective. They said the rhino horn was not used in Vietnam, but is only in transit to other Asian countries. Mr Do ignores the fact that 56% of Asian nationals arrested in South Africa for rhino crimes are Vietnamese and that CITES records indicate that 118 rhino bones (2007-2009), 25 rhino bodies (2009), 177 rhino horns (2006-2010), 22 live rhinos (2006-2010) and 241 rhino “trophies” (2003-2010) were shipped from South Africa to Vietnam legally. The CITES Standing Committee in July asked Vietnam to account for those trophy horns by September, as CITES does not allow trophies to be used for commercial purposes. Ooops – that means ground up for the well-documented rhino horn powder used in Vietnam – but not according to Mr Do – who will doubtless ask CITES for more time to “find” the trophy horns? South Africa has now banned licences for “pseudo” trophy hunts for Vietnamese nationals… too little, too late. Meanwhile, Vietnam also runs eleven tiger breeding farms under the guise of conservation but actually destined for the pot. South Africa helpfully exported 16 live tigers to Vietnam (2009-2010) to assist in this captive breeding?
Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:30
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
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
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
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
Friday 15th June 2012
Lion bones have taken at least a supportive role for increasingly diminishing tiger bones in terms of demands for the trade of Asian Traditional Medicine. Or perhaps a major role?