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.

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

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

Saturday 2nd March 2013

The EU and the illegal wildlife trade

                                                                   A messy scene

 

On the 27th February, LionAid was invited to present information at a briefing to the EU Parliament about the illegal wildlife trade. Also present were representatives from WWF, IFAW, WCS, the USA Mission to the EU, Interpol, etc. The meeting was organized by Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP (Netherlands) and Kriton Arsenis (Greece) who have taken the lead in establishing the EU scope and extent of illegal wildlife trade, how the EU can effectively prevent such trade, and what measures can be taken to bring better law enforcement to the arena.

 

The situation is grim, and as of now, the EU is woefully underprepared to effectively deal with illegal trafficking. With over 2,000 points of entry, it is relatively simple for traffickers to identify weak points – the EU is one of the largest and most diverse markets for wildlife products. Also, there is no uniform standard of enforcement within the 27 Member States, and many have weak penalties for those convicted of illegal trafficking. It is therefore somewhat easy to establish operations in countries where enforcement and penalties do not disincentivise the considerable profits that can be made. Remember that once an illegal product enters the EU, the absence of internal border controls means that it can then reach almost all 27 Member States. The illegal trade is a low priority for CITES, there is insufficient coordination and cooperation among EU Member States, there are limited resources for enforcement – all adding to an environment facilitating illegal trade.

 

In addition, our data show that EU Customs officials will accept “official” CITES documents from the exporting countries without in many cases establishing their authenticity and/or appropriateness under existing CITES and EU Wildlife Trade regulations:


• Significant numbers of elephant hunting trophies from South Africa have been allowed entry without establishing whether that country has sufficient “huntable” elephants. From 2006-2011 South Africa exported about 750 hunting trophies yet virtually all elephants are in nationally protected areas.


• From 2005-2008 Denmark imported about 6 elephant hunting trophies per year. But then in 2009 and 2010 Denmark suddenly imported a total of 206 elephant hunting trophies, mostly from Zimbabwe. Was that small country suddenly gripped by elephant hunting fever or were these tusks illegal ivory imports disguised as trophies?


• During 2009 and 2010, Portugal, Austria Denmark, Poland, Italy, France and Germany together imported close to one ton of tusks, mainly from Zimbabwe, and all with “permits”. These were not listed as hunting trophies but tusks by the kilo on the CITES database. Unless citizens from those EU countries all decided within two years to export one ton of heirloom tusks from Zimbabwe under derogations this constitutes illegal trade.


• Rhino horn “proxy hunters”, replacing the “pseudo hunters” from Vietnam, are increasingly importing trophies to Russia, Denmark, Poland, and Czech Republic. We would challenge the authorities in those countries to ascertain the presence of any rhino trophies still in the possession of the “hunters”. Most probably they are all in Vietnam by now, and perhaps the original owners lost them, misplaced them, gave them away, or declared them as “stolen”. 

 

There were a diversity of actions proposed at the meeting, including national action plans for enforcement; risk and intelligence assessments; training and awareness programs for prosecutors and the judiciary; liaising with authorities in source, transit and destination countries, CITES, Interpol and the World Customs Organization; building task forces, enhancing intelligence sharing and information management. In addition, the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations fall far short of the needed rigour in terms of being able to deal with the “grey” wildlife trade discussed above. So a very long list of items “to do”. This will take many years to implement let alone complete.

 

In contrast, the USA is already much better organized in terms of efficient interagency cooperation and existence of a number of highly applicable Acts like the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. When former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the illegal trade funded terrorism and militias and promised US support, a coordinated and efficient response could develop virtually overnight.

 

Meanwhile, the EU is badly prepared to handle both the illegal trade and the semi-legal “grey” trade in wildlife in the near future. Unless the EU Parliament and the Commission take a very active and indeed pro-active stance from now on, the EU will not effectively deal with the ever-more sophisticated and financially flush criminal networks that run circles around currently feeble contraventions. When a well-organized business is thrown against a slow and cumbersome bureaucracy there is no doubt of the victor. 

 

There are, however, things that can be done both immediately and in the short term. Almost immediately the EU WTR can suspend many legal loopholes. Among the most glaring is the Personal and Household Effects derogation for hunting trophies that currently allows for much fiddling as is seen in the case of both rhino horns and elephant tusks. Closing such legal loopholes will eliminate much of the currently flourishing “grey” trade.

 

In the short term, the EU can also place a total ban on any number of wildlife products, including ivory, lion skins, lion bones and trophies, polar bear products, snake skins etc. There is precedent for this – in 2009 the EU banned all Canadian Harp Seal products from being traded within the 27 Member States and this came into effect in 2010. Before the ban it was estimated that $5.5 million of products entered the EU from a population of almost 7 million Canadian fur seals. The trade value in elephant, lion and polar bear products is much smaller and comes from a comparatively much smaller source population. 

 

Once a ban on such products is in place, enforcement is much easier as there can be no further “grey” trade and any sale of such items. Given the current levels of concern among EU citizens about elephant and rhino poaching and the continuous steep decline in lion populations, this ban would have great popular support. MEPs at the wildlife crime meeting were indeed reminded by Catherine Bearder MEP (UK) that this concern could well play a part in the upcoming EU Parliamentary elections in June 2014. Cross-party MEP support for measures that put an end to EU trade in species vulnerable because of their high commercial value could pay re-election dividends.

 

Clearly, the EU needs to act fast and effectively. As the third-largest world market for wildlife products traded illegally this is both a duty and a responsibility. The EU and the Commission can do so within current trade legislation and without years of liaising, training, building, assessing, consulting, deliberating and enhancing. Those measures can come in parallel and will take precious time. But without dedicated action right now customs agents will be well trained in the future to recognize species that went extinct years ago.  

 
 
Picture credit: www.stargazerpuj.wordpress.com

 

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 13:17

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

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

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