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.

South Africa, wildlife conservation, and international pressure

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

Head in the sand for South Africa?

Saturday 14th July 2012

Head in the sand for South Africa?

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

Namibia, the South African Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Noah's Ark


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.  


Picture credit: dowdlefolkart.com

South Africa again supplies a controversial demand for wildlife products - tigers!

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

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.

"In principle a lion is not more or less than a crocodile, an ostrich or a butterfly. It's a form of life. Breeding animals for human exploitation is a natural human process," he said.

Potgieter said that breeding and hunting lions was only deplorable in the eyes of the public because a "sympathetic myth has been created about the lion as the king of the animals".


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

"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

Theme parks with live ammunition

Sunday 1st July 2012

Theme parks with live ammunition

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:

“In South Africa, the private game ranching industry now covers nearly three times as much land as all public national parks. The 12 000 wildlife ranches contribute greatly to economic growth… [there is now]  more game than at any time during the last 100 years, including species which have been brought back from the brink of extinction. The conservation and management of wildlife as part of a green economy does not receive the attention it deserves in the Rio process. Yet wildlife and hunting contribute considerably to national economies, and this in a nature-friendly way. Sustainable game management is consequently a must in the struggle to conserve biodiversity and to support rural livelihoods.”


So the theme park hunter is now part of a green economy according to Bernard Loze? Oh well… they must sleep better at night.


You can see the take-out menu on the Hartzview Hunting Safaris facebook page and you can see their advertising video by going to their website (caution: video contains footage of animals being shot).


Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:47

South Africa continues to support the lion bone trade

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?

It is now estimated that a lion skeleton is worth $10,000 in the Asian countries supplying lion bone products. In 2010, a skeleton was worth perhaps $4,000 – so quite a big increase in a short time. South Africa has risen to the demand, and as with the rhino horn trade, is stimulating a ready market with a ready supply. This can only result for lions the same situation with rhinos – greatly increased levels of poaching.

South Africa has facilitated the following:
1.    An export of 250kg of lion bones to Laos in 2009 (previous total 2000-2008 was 0);

2.    An export of 586 bones to Laos in 2010 (previous total 2000-2009 was 0);

3.    An export of 14 live lions to Vietnam in 2010 (previous total 2000-2009 was 2);

4.    An export of 29 skeletons to Laos and 19 to Vietnam in 2010 (previous total to     Laos 2000-2009 was 5 and Vietnam was 0);

5.    An export of 90 teeth to Laos in 2010 (previous total to Laos 2000-2009 was 0)

6.    An export of 54 lion trophies to Laos (previous total to Laos 2000-2009 was 1).

Surely South Africa is aware of the impact that their trade in wildlife products is having on the significant escalation of poaching of rhinos in their country and on the continent? And surely they might see that their facilitation of the lion bone trade could have similar impacts on increasing the demand for lion products and thereby also stimulating poaching? Or will South Africa continue to insist that their trade is considered legal under CITES and therefore will not have broader lion conservation consequences?

LionAid will request clarification from South Africa, but we already anticipate that this communication will not be acted on. Perhaps we will be pleasingly proven wrong.

Image:  etc.usf.edu

South Africa continues to obfuscate lion export records

Obfuscation means to “render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible”. And that label clearly applies to South Africa’s CITES lion export records, and in fairness, also pertains to the CITES trade record website maintained by UNEP and WCMC.

Let me explain.

1.    South Africa, from 2000 to 2009, exported a total of 2651 “wild” lion trophies to the rest of the world according to CITES records. CITES only monitors exports, so this is a minimum number of lions shot as trophies, as South Africa has an active local hunting community. Add to this the latest CITES export number of 348 wild lions in 2010. Reliable export records end in 2010.

2.    South Africa might have about 10-15 truly wild lions available for trophy hunts per year. Such hunts are either conducted in private reserves where introduced lion populations have outgrown their small population holding capacity, where hunting concessions border on national parks like Kruger and Kalahari Gemsbok, etc. So realistically, there should have been 110 – 165 wild lion trophies exported over the eleven years rather than 2909.

3.    Why the discrepancy? This is where we have major questions. It seems trophy hunters would like to receive a “wild” lion category rather than a “captive origin” one. So the South Africa provincial authorities accommodate, despite the reality. The vast majority of the “wild” category trophies are in fact derived from a large captive population specifically bred for hunting, and “bled” into the system as “wild” lions.

4.    How does South Africa facilitate this mislabelling? You might be surprised that a lion raised in captivity for its entire life can be “released” into a field and then “deemed wild” after a period of a few weeks depending on South African provincial regulations. Of course the lion needs to be fed all along. The “deemed wild” designation, however, does seem to hold weight with the local CITES authorities even though any reasonable person would designate this as a leap of faith.

5.    The European Union has recently banned all imports of lion products from South Africa (except trophies, see below) because of this mislabelling – due to a concern expressed by the Scientific Review Group of the EC Wildlife Trade Regulation. Strangely, the USA Management Authority, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has not acted similarly, despite the fact that the USA is the major importer of all South African lion exports – 71% of all trophy lions for example from 2000-2009. The European Union has requested clarification from South Africa since the 2011 import ban. To date, South Africa has only referred the matter to the provincial authorities issuing the permits, but there has been little overall progress.

6.    Lion trophies, despite a clear involvement of commerce, remain largely outside the designation of “trade” by CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation rules as trophies are considered as “personal and household effects”. So in other words, when you travel to South Africa and purchase a table, chair, rug, or trinket, those fall into a category no different than a hunted lion trophy. Why? Well… just because it has been so for many years is the weak answer we are given.

7.    Until LionAid came along, that was the status quo. Nobody questioned the mislabelling of lion exports from South Africa, and nobody raised questions about the personal effects derogations despite a clear association with trade in lion products. We aim to change all this and question whatever exports of lion products as to sustainability.

8.    Finally, the “obfuscation” label also should be applied to the CITES trade website maintained by UNEP and WCMC. The data supplied, while now including figures for 2010, is only really accurate until 2009. There is little cross-referencing of numbers, and to extract reasonable data, a large number of pages with different categories need to be accessed. When LionAid queried the quality of the data, the WCMC suggested we contact the individual CITES authorities directly – but that is after all their job?

Conservation of lions requires a multifaceted approach. LionAid would urge South Africa and CITES/UNEP/WCMC to fully participate in the process by supplying realistic and supportable data to evaluate lion population offtakes as an important component of designing informed conservation measures.

Picture credit: Monet, Houses of Parliament in Fog, www.monetalia.com

CITES records show that Zambia exported 193 lion trophies in 2010?

We had always assumed that Zambia could be following a programme of sustainable trophy hunting of lions. Meanwhile we were concerned about the numbers of quotas issued, the lack of information about the impact of trophy hunting on utilized populations in hunting concessions, and the benefit to communities supposedly involved in sharing trophy hunting profits.

But now we are alerted to something quite alarming. According to the official CITES website, Zambia exported 193 lion trophies in 2010. In the past five years leading up to 2010, Zambia exported an average of 65 trophies each year.  So where did all the trophies representing a 300% increase over past years go?

CITES official records indicate that 42 suddenly went to Canada (average over the past five years = 0.6 lions) and 105 trophy lions to Russia (average over the past years = 1.2 lions).

What is going on here? The IUCN in 2006 estimated that Zambia had between 600 and 1,400 lions of all ages and sexes. There is no way that an export of 193 lion trophies in a single year is by any means sustainable given those population estimates.

Is CITES wrong? Were old skins perhaps mistakenly labelled as hunting trophies by Zambia?  Or was there a Russian and Canadian joint hunting convention in Zambia in 2010? Questions posed to the Zambian CITES authorities have not been answered, but we will keep you informed as to progress. 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 21:11