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.

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

Saving Lions by Killing Them?

Tuesday 19th March 2013

Saving Lions by Killing Them?

 

 

On March 17, the new Director of Wildlife of Tanzania posted an Opinion Piece in the New York Times entitled “Saving Lions by Killing Them”.

 

Describing himself as “Tanzania’s highest ranking wildlife official”, Alexander Songorwa sought to appeal via this message to the US Fish and Wildlife Service NOT to list lions on the US Endangered Species Act. Mr Songorwa indicated that this action would be “disastrous” to “conservation” efforts by depriving Tanzania of much-needed income needed to support game reserves and community wildlife areas.

 

Mr Songorwa seems sadly out of touch with the status of Tanzania’s wildlife:

 

• He states that “an average of 200 lions are shot each year, generating about $1,960,000 in revenue”. In actual fact, the Tanzania government earned an average of $556,610 per year from lion trophy fees over the ten years 2002-2011 from an average of 160 lions shot – in the past five years this has declined to an average of 110 lions shot.


• He states that Tanzania has 16,800 lions. A much more likely number is less than half that. Nevertheless, Tanzania contains three of the five largest lion populations on the African continent, and intelligent conservation of these lions is of primary importance to the long-term survival of the species.


• Mr Songorwa states that “we recently made it illegal to hunt male lions younger than 6 years old…” While it might be illegal in principle, there are no penalties in place and no independent means of checking the age of trophy hunted lions exported. In fact, Tanzanian hunters are notorious for shooting males as young as two years old (see pictures above).


• Mr Songorwa states that Tanzania has 130,000 elephants. At current estimates of less than 400,000 remaining on the continent, he would imply that almost a third of Africa’s elephants occur in Tanzania. This is very clearly wrong, especially since in the last three years it has been estimated that up to 30,000 elephants have been poached in Tanzania.

 

 
Mr Songorwa is the most recent Director of Wildlife in Tanzania, following a series of previous office holders relieved of duty for various infringements and corrupt practices. Mr Songorwa comes with good credentials – he has written several papers on community based wildlife management programmes, pointing out the reasons for their failure and suggesting ways forward. We hope that Mr Songorwa will now have the opportunity to put his theories into practice, as communities remain woefully out of step with income derived from Tanzania’s wildlife resources by Government and trophy hunting operators (see below).

 

Mr Songorwa’s assessment of 16,800 lions is far from current realities, and merely echoes previous statements by one of his predecessors, Erasmus Tarimo. In a reply to UK Undersecretary of State Richard Benyon in April 2011, Mr Tarimo stated that he:


1. Professed to understand concerns about the decline in Africa’s lions, and pointed out this was mainly caused by loss of habitat and retaliatory killings;


2. Had information to indicate that within nominally protected areas lion populations are stable and/or increasing;


3. Could assure that in Tanzania, all wildlife is harvested sustainably according to the Wildlife Conservation Act 5 2009, and Hunting Regulations 2010. In addition, he pointed out that there was now a six-year age rule for trophy lions, that hunting outfitters had been educated on trophy selection and encouraged to use camera traps and video to record what lions come to baits. 

 

Mr Tarimo and Mr Songorwa put great stock in the results of a lion “population survey” conducted in 2009. On investigation, this report (by Mesochina, Mbangwa, Chardonnet, Mosha, Mtui, Drouet, Crosmary, Kissui (2010 - Conservation status of the lion (Panthera leo Linnaeus 1758) in Tanzania) can be largely dismissed for the following reasons:


• The Report “data” was gathered between 19 October and 22 December 2009 (two months!) and the lion “survey” was based on questionnaires – 282 out of 311 responded positively to having seen lions (daily, weekly, monthly, yearly sightings) and so lion range in Tanzania was extrapolated to 816,790km2 or 92.4% of the country. This is nonsense.


• The Mesochina et al lion survey is unpublished and not peer reviewed. Funding and support came from the Tanzania Professional Hunting Association, Tanzania Hunting Operators Association, Safari Club International, IGF Foundation, and Tanganyika Wildlife Safari (who control more than half the hunting in Selous). These are all vested-interest groups, and doubtless had input. The report thus cannot be considered in any way unbiased.


• Mr Tarimo assured that lion populations in nominally protected areas remain stable and healthy. In fact, the report mentions that within protected areas, 35% of respondents (regardless of expertise) considered lions to be increasing and 33% of the respondents said they were decreasing.


• The report also acknowledges that the level of knowledge of lion populations is considered “high” for 42% of the protected areas without hunting, vs 1% of areas with hunting; “medium” for 32% and 33%, “poor” for 5% and 41%, and “questionable” for 21% and 17%. In other words, 74% of the information about the status of lions in protected areas could be considered to have some measure of reliability versus 34% for the hunting areas.


• The report acknowledges that “since most lion populations are not yet documented in terms of abundance, the population size proposed in this survey is considered as tentative and subject to refinement”. Nevertheless, based on two months of “research”, the authors propose that there might be 16,800 lions in Tanzania. Other estimates say 7073 (Bauer and van der Merwe, 2004) and 14,432 (Chardonnet 2002; an author of the 2010 report).

 

Mr Songorwa mentions that “Tanzania has regulated hunting for decades”. That does not mean that such regulation has included any measure of sustainability. In fact, records indicate that hunting quotas would have allowed between 31% and 73% of available male lions to be hunted each year. In terms of actual harvest, hunters achieved between 10% and 23% of “available” males each year. This is not sustainable in any fashion, and is a good indication why male lions between 2-3 years old were shot in concessions.

 

In 2004, Baldus and Cauldwell (Tourist hunting and its role in development of wildlife areas in Tanzania. GTZ, 2004) produced a scathing report on hunting practices in Tanzania. While earning an estimated $27.7 million that year for hunting operators, total community benefits (42 district councils) were only about $1 million. In addition, the report indicated the following:


• Non-effective control by the Wildlife Department;


• A lack of professionalism among the hunting operators;


• A lack of ethics and the absence of standards;


• Disregard of quotas;


• Lack of respect for environmental standards (especially in the camps);


• A decline of wildlife populations in hunting areas;


• Misplaced influence being exercised by the operators and highly placed officials in government;


• Resistance to make positive changes and truly involve communities.

 


Why has this been allowed to continue by Tanzania authorities? The answer is short term money to be earned over long-term conservation needs.

 We do not believe that trophy hunting of lions has been proven in any way sustainable in the past or will be in the future, but if Mr Songorwa wants to convince anybody that he can save lions by killing them (something we strongly disapprove of but that Tanzania seems determined to continue) we would suggest the following measures:


1. Declare a moratorium on trophy hunting at least for the time needed to conduct independent assessments of remaining lion populations in Tanzania based on ground counts rather than questionnaires sent by post;


2. Ensure that trophy hunting concessions are independently surveyed as to the population status and pride composition of lions in hunting concessions;


3. Based on results of 1 and 2 above, realistically assess the capability of Tanzania’s lion populations to be sustainably hunted by setting much more realistic quotas and very strict measures, penalties and sanctions to ensure underage lions are no longer hunted;


4. Consistently evaluate levels of commercial utilization of lions in Tanzania by requiring regular non-detriment reports based on actual and current data;


5. Immediately draw up a National Lion Conservation Plan to ensure long-term survival of the species;


6. Convince us that immediate actions will be taken to ensure that the current disparity between hunting operator and community benefits from consumptive wildlife utilization are significantly addressed;


7. Join his Minister of Wildlife to significantly address levels of corruption in the wildlife department;


8. Reform the guiding values of the Tanzanian Wildlife Department to ensure that commercial utilization of wildlife is seen as secondary to precautionary principles guaranteeing the conservation of Tanzania’s wildlife heritage in line with the vision of Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first President. 

 

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 Pieter Kat at 19:31

Sad for Simba?

Tuesday 29th January 2013

Sad for Simba?

                                                          Where have all the pridelands gone?


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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Picture credit: Disney Corporation

 

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 Pieter Kat at 19:14

US Fish and Wildlife Service takes the next step for lions

In March 2011, a consortium of US conservation organizations presented a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the African lion as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. While it took 20 months, the USFWS in November announced that the petition had merit (lions were considered to be subject to a diversity of negative factors including habitat destruction, overutilization (trophy hunting), susceptible to diseases like canine distemper and bovine tuberculosis, inadequately protected by current regulatory mechanisms, and threatened by human-lion conflict). The next step in the listing process is therefore to embark on a status review of the African lion, including a) a three-month window during which public comments are solicited on scientific, commercial and other information about lions, and b) followed by a 12-month review period during which all data will be analysed and a final decision made.

 

It might sound like a long and tortuous process, but a positive end result would be highly beneficial to lions in several ways, including a ban on the import into the USA of all lion products (the USA is currently responsible for about 60% of all lion trophy imports, for example) and conservation funding.

LionAid submitted a diversity of documents including our assessment of trophy hunting and lion populations and our latest population assessments based on most recent actual data and our Conservation Perception Rank of the lion range states.

 

We have little doubt that the review of the lions’ status will be conducted in an open and transparent fashion, and that the inflated population numbers submitted by organizations like IGF in France will be seen as the attempts of data manipulation by pro-hunting vested-interest groups they are. We would encourage the USFWS to treat the status review as urgent and perhaps reach their conclusion before the 12-month deadline. 

 

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 Pieter Kat at 17:35

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

2012 - The annus horribilis for African wildlife?

Some of us might remember the speech by Queen Elizabeth to the nation and the Commonwealth when she referred to 1992 as the annus horribilis – the horrible year – referring to the break-up of two family marriages and one divorce within her family and a fire at one of her homes – Windsor Castle.

 

I believe we can also label 2012 as the annus horribilis for wildlife conservation in Africa. During that year, we were informed that over 650 rhinos were poached for their horns in South Africa, tens of thousands of elephants poached for ivory on the continent, lions killed for the value of their bones and trophies in increasing numbers and the list goes on. We also heard that the illegal wildlife trade is now only just behind drug and illegal arms trafficking in terms of profits.

 

We are realizing that wildlife is a commodity to be traded illegally by syndicates and legally by “pseudo hunters”. We learned that international organizations were scrambling to keep up but ultimately ineffectual to control the killings. How could they be when we also learned the extent to which officials in countries are involved in the illegal trade? And that militias and armies were funding their activities by the sales of ivory and rhino horns? And that some allege that the recent upsurge in rhino and elephant poaching in Kenya is attributable to candidates in the upcoming elections in March are filling their coffers?

 

More and more illegal ivory is being seized in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines, Kenya, Malaysia. We are only just beginning to realize that for every one seizure, maybe nine reach their destination. Some estimate that four elephants are poached every hour to supply the insatiable demand for ivory. Some estimate that 80,000 elephants have been killed over the past three years. Photographs of the seized shipments include tusks that belonged to juvenile elephants.

 

So what have we learned? Quite a few sobering lessons. I have revised lion numbers down to about 15,000 on the African continent based on an analysis of the capability of range states to be able to maintain them based on a number of international indices like poverty, corruption, failed state ranking, wildlife department effectiveness, and perhaps most important the will of Governments to conserve their national wildlife heritage.

 

We have also learned, regrettably, that some major conservation organizations have become so corporate that they reward their executives a salary exceeding that of President Obama. We learned that hopeful contributions by their donors went to office expenses rather than wildlife. We learned that major conservation organizations have not been effective to stem the tide of illegal wildlife trade, and indeed some continue to support the outdated notion that trophy hunting contributes to conservation.

 

Most importantly, we learned that we have been complacent and perhaps even ignorant of the consequences of wildlife trade. We ignored trends facilitated by South Africa in terms of rhino poaching that has now spread to Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania. We ignored the fact that there used to be 10,000 Northern White Rhinos – all gone. We ignored the fact that there were over 200,000 lions in Africa 50 years ago – all gone except for maybe 15,000 survivors of habitat destruction, human/wildlife conflict and an immense toll from trophy hunting.

 

We must all accept a new formula. It will be difficult as the current trends of commercial poaching for bush meat, ivory, rhino horns and lion bones has become established to an extent perhaps beyond our comprehension. This was not a sudden development, it has been building for a long time. If we want to make a difference in conservation of African wildlife, we need to engage the African decision makers and the very people who consider wildlife as their heritage.

 

We need to engage and provide funding to those conservation organisations that have grasped the new realities, adopted new methods to deal with new threats, and above all, are not weighed down by a vast corporate infrastructure that swallows conservation dollars faster than you can say ineffectual.


2012 should be our last annus horribilis based on failed conservation formulas. We need to get smart, get real, and move forward.

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:02

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

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

Wednesday 29th August 2012

Wildlife Conservation - a mixed report

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?


• Zimbabwe comes under our radar again as the country has applied to CITES to sell 50 tonnes of ivory. This ivory they say was confiscated from poachers, resulted from natural deaths and culling programs. Three problems here. First, Zimbabwe claims to be home to 100,000 elephants, which is completely off the mark. That would mean Zimbabwe has about 1/4 of all elephants in eastern and southern Africa which is complete nonsense. Zimbabwe might seasonally share elephants with Zambia, Botswana, perhaps even South Africa. But these animals are migratory, not resident. Second, Zimbabwe was given permission to sell 3.7 tonnes of raw ivory in 2008 by CITES, earning an estimated $500,000. CITES allowed Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe to sell off stockpiles altogether about 50 tonnes or 5,446 tusks. CITES said the sales were meant to benefit elephant conservation and communities living with elephants. Other sources say 108 tonnes were sold, one wonders where the difference in numbers came from?  I doubt any of those four nations spent their ivory cash for conservation. But the interesting point is that in 2008, Zimbabwe had 3.7 tonnes to sell, and now, 4 years later, they have 50 tonnes? Where did all this ivory come from? Perhaps that is why Zimbabwe needed to “invent” 100,000 mythical elephants?


• Zimbabwe also came into the news with an alleged takeover attempt by a Minister (of Higher Education, no less), the Provincial Governor, and a former MP among others of the Save Valley Conservancy. The Conservancy is attempting court intervention, as it is hailed as a conservation success – tourism, trophy hunting, community empowerment, etc. I have my doubts as to the “sustainable” hunting of lions that goes on at the Conservancy for example, but now they have lost their entire 2012 quota as it was suspended in the takeover attempt. We shall have to see where this latest land-grab drama goes.


• India has reported that tiger deaths are at an all-time high, with 48 or so tigers dead since the beginning of the year, compared to about 50 during both 2010 and 2011. I requested further information from Tiger Watch and they confirmed the numbers. Interestingly, all tiger deaths in India are treated as poaching unless it can be proven otherwise. To date, about 20 cases of poaching have been established. Once again, the poaching incidents eventually supply the illegal trade to Asian markets, and the increase this year parallels both the poaching increases on rhinos in Africa and the increase in lion bone trading. We all must realize that poaching of various species (including even pangolins) for the Traditional Medicine market is all interconnected and involves rather few kingpins.


• China has both rain and sun. Yao Ming, an internationally famous Chinese basketball player recently visited Kenya to stand against rhino and elephant poaching (perhaps a good message to other sports “celebrities” to get involved in conservation?). On the other hand at the July meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, China told everyone to get lost in terms of the tiger breeding farms operated for “conservation” – read body parts – as this was internal trade within China and not within the remit of CITES. China was not asked about the fate of the 215 live rhinos shipped from South Africa (2000-2010). There is even a Chinese owned company in South Africa – DeCai – an import/exporter dealing in live animals, animal skins and SA wine also catering to the safari travel and hunting industry – that exported at least 28 live rhinos according to available records.


• Kenya also has rain and sun. The rain fell a few months ago when livestock owners killed 6 lions just outside Nairobi National Park. A lion was chopped up inside Amboseli National Park, and community members in the area killed a number of elephants citing grievances against the Kenya Wildlife Service in terms of non-involvement in the profits of the Park despite promises. The 2008 Wildlife Act that could provide legal relief continues to gather dust on shelves as it has not been enacted. The sun came out with the formation of the Eseriani Wildlife Association, an organization established to serve as a mitigation agency between communities and government agencies. Further good news – John Keen, a respected Maasai Elder and former MP (he is 82) came out in great support of wildlife conservation and offered to donate 300 acres of his land to enlarge the Nairobi National Park.


• South Africa recently ordered AVAAZ posters at the O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) to be taken down. AVAAZ is an international pressure group and internet petition organization that has collected well over 700,000 signatures to ask SA President Zuma to intervene in the lion bone trade. LionAid was closely involved as the leading conservation organization on this issue, but did not design the “offensive” posters that were paid advertising. AVAAZ is now considering legal action as they claim censorship. 

 
So overall, some bright spells emerging from the gloom that continues to characterize the international will to commit considered effort into the conservation of our joint wildlife heritage. It is becoming all the more evident that the effort and the will and the pressure will come from individuals rather than entrenched large organizations. A Wildlife Spring is on the way.
 


Picture credit: elephantivory.org

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:30

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