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.

Tigers are worth more dead than alive

At a meeting in St Petersburg at the end of 2010 donors came together to raise much needed funds to save tigers. The conference was hosted by the then Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin (now President again) and guests included representatives from the World Bank, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo, and celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Campbell.


If we accept that there are 3,200 tigers left in the world (actually, only two of the nine tiger subspecies have enough individuals to remain possibly viable, four subspecies are extinct, and the other three are critically endangered) – the donors pledged something like £66,000 per live tiger. We all know that pledges are very different than cash in hand, but that seems to represent the worth of a tiger to potential donors.


Now, what we have to also realize is that a half bottle (350ml) of tiger bone wine made in the 1980’s in China is selling at £6,000. So eleven small bottles equals the value of a whole tiger…


Tiger bone wine is made in vats where rice wine is added to a tiger skeleton and allowed to stew. Perhaps a few other ingredients are added, and the product is supposed to stave off chills, improve circulation, eliminate fatigue and help with rheumatism. While not being a practitioner of Asian Traditional Medicine, I would pose to you that a tiger’s bones brewed up in wine is going to be worth 20-30 times more than a live tiger value decided at St Petersburg.  


In economic terms, you can go to South Africa and trophy hunt a rhino for about $55,000. The horn is worth $65,000 per kilo, and an average white rhino bears about 6 kilos of horn – so $390,000 – a nice and entirely legal profit that many are taking advantage of. A pair of tusks is similarly worth more than the hunting costs of an elephant. So from a purely economic point of view, the price people are willing to pay for wildlife products exceeds the value of the living animal. And the more rhinos, tigers, elephants are killed, the more valuable their products will become as they get scarcer. And the more those animals will be poached, since the profit margins and benefit to risk ratios keep getting higher.


The disconnect is that we have a real and realizable value placed on dead animals but not on live ones. Is a tiger only worth £66,000 alive? What is the worth of a live wild rhino? How much is a living elephant worth? As long as we cannot decide, we are putting market values on what is dead. You might say that wildlife tourism is worth huge sums to African countries, and that is true. But that value is meaningless to the crime syndicates who cannot even pronounce the word biodiversity properly, let alone know what it means.  


This, my friends, is the reality.  Animals will become increasingly more market valuable the more they die. There will be someone willing to pay very many millions so he can say he shot the last lion in Africa. Those of us who would like to keep animals alive need to catch up and pay attention. Unless there is positive finance to conserve our biodiversity, we are going to be left with what remains alive in zoos, mounted in museums, and viewed on old wildlife films.


So what can be done? Better policing and law enforcement for sure. Much higher sentences for commercial poachers and much better monitoring of airports and harbours to reduce the inflow of illegal products. No more legal loopholes that allow pseudo-trophy hunting in South Africa and no more sales by South Africa of rhino horns and lion bones to Asian countries. No more legal ivory sales allowed by CITES. Reverse the current benefit to risk ratio for commercial poachers. Just for a start? 

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:39

In a recent article in the South African Mail and Guardian newspaper, the potentially very destructive (but entirely legal) trade in lion bones to Asia was discussed. One of the people interviewed was Professor Pieter Potgieter, the Chairman of the South African Predator Breeders' Association, a consistent proponent of the right to breed lions for canned hunting purposes.


According to the article, Potgieter defended the industry saying there is little difference between breeding lions and any other mammal. "Chickens are killed by humans. How are lions different from them?" he asked.

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

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


To be helpful in telling the difference between a lion and a chicken, we have provided the Professor with a picture of a chicken (above). We would also remind the Professor that last time we checked the taxonomy of chickens, they were listed with ostriches as birds, not mammals. We believe crocodiles are reptiles, and butterflies are insects, but perhaps not in South Africa?


So what is the difference between a lion bred in captivity and a chicken bred in captivity? The Professor’s answers indicate that he might be a closet philosopher, or perhaps a closet Buddhist. The answer is actually relatively simple. Chickens are bred in captivity to provide non-vegetarians with meat. But lions are bred in captivity to provide “hunters” with “sport” and “enjoyment” and “thrills” – see  the LionAid blog "Theme Parks with live ammunition" . Chickens provide eggs and are killed for protein, and have been domesticated for about 8,000 years. The world population of chickens was estimated to be 24 billion in 2003. Captive-bred lions are killed for fun by rich Europeans and Americans, and the wild population is estimated at about 20,000 on the whole African continent. Canned hunting perhaps took off not more than a dozen years ago, and is a bargain-basement option for lion trophy “hunters”.


Perhaps the Professor, if he thinks captive breeding of lions is no different than the breeding of chickens, could begin the first canned chicken hunting safari?

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 13:34

"Chasing what is already gone"

Tuesday 3rd July 2012

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


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


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


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


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


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


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Picture credit: Big Life Foundation, Tanzania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feline immunodeficiency virus among lions revisited

A sea change of attitude among leading researchers about the importance of FIV infection among lions? Yes it was, and will now perhaps lead to a better investigation of the effects of this pernicious disease that could significantly influence conservation priorities of remaining lion populations.  


In a recent article Emerging Viruses in the Felidae: Shifting Paradigms in the journal Viruses (7 Feb 2012, v4, pp 236-257) Steve O’Brien and his colleagues indicated a rather big shift in their previous paradigm about the effect of FIV on lions. For many years, O’Brien had been a foremost proponent of FIV infection being inconsequential among lions – after all, his research group had shown that the virus had most likely infected lions for many thousands of years, and despite high infection rates in places like the Serengeti and the Okavango, lions did not seem to be displaying negative effects. This view ignored some important pathological data gathered from an Italian zoo lion infected with FIV (Poli et al, 1995, J. Wildl. Diseases 31(1): 70-74) and immune system information from lions provided by Kennedy-Stoskopf since 1994. Basically, those studies contested what O’Brien and colleagues had been saying and were repeating, and indicated similar pathologies and consequences of infection to those among domestic cats that should have been taken seriously.


Niels Pedersen, a friend at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, was the first to discover the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in 1986. He was able to isolate this “new” virus from a domestic cat brought in to the Veterinary Hospital presenting symptoms and signs he recognized from monkeys infected with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus. Once the cat immunodeficiency virus was described, it became clear that the infection showed a similar progression of immune system compromise as had been noted among humans affected with HIV. Consequently, with an animal model, a great number of experimental protocols could and were designed with domestic cats to determine outcomes of infection with an immunodeficiency virus. Niels never believed that infection with such a virus could be inconsequential among lions.


Meanwhile, O’Brien and his co-workers (including virologists and veterinarians) seemed unaware of the very many journal articles detailing a great diversity of consequences of infection with FIV among domestic cats. Instead of using such information as a possible model of infection consequence among lions, they felt that lions had worked out some sort of “truce” with the virus. Why did they take this track?


First, O’Brien and his colleagues looked at the divergent genetic sequences of the FIV strains infecting lions, and came to the conclusion that this was an old association between this virus and a big cat (perhaps over 300,000 years?). Making another leap, they decided that all long-term associations between a virus and host inevitably resulted in a compromise – and used examples like measles and smallpox for example. There are of course elements of truth in this, as selection works on host immune systems to become better resistant to viruses and also on viruses to diminish the lethal effects on their hosts so the viruses have the opportunity to spread. But that is not the way immunodeficiency viruses operate – they mutate rapidly, shuffle parts of genomes among co-infecting FIV strains, and are not in themselves immediately lethal. Selection on an immunodeficiency virus has more to do with better avoidance of immune responses than accommodating longevity of the host. That is already built into the virus modus operandi (see below).


Second, O’Brien et al were looking for an immunodeficiency virus/host association that was not greatly negative to the host to perhaps decipher genetic mechanisms for resistance. This would then lead to a better understanding of how HIV infection among human populations could perhaps be mitigated. Direct studies of human populations had already led to an understanding that western Europeans had higher levels of resistance to HIV infection than, say, African populations. O’Brien and colleagues attributed this to possible effects of exposure by Europeans to a great diversity of pathogens in the past – for example the numerous outbreaks of plague in the Middle Ages that perhaps fortuitously selected for a particular genetic makeup among survivors -  that then provided a better chance of surviving the future challenge of HIV centuries later. But any hopeful level of accommodation with FIV was not to be found among lions.


Third, researchers wrongly interpreted the way immunodeficiency viruses actually affect their hosts. Proof of infection via antibody analyses proved to be at very high levels in some populations – close to all adult lions in the Okavango and the Serengeti for example. But lions were not dying in huge numbers, and infected individuals seemed perfectly healthy for years after they had been diagnosed positive. Surprise, surprise?  Not really, as that is the way the virus works. After an initial illness following infection, the virus then settles down to work slowly (it is after all a lentivirus) but inexorably to erode the immune system. Animals and humans can indeed seem apparently healthy for years after first infection as the immune system remains largely functional and is perhaps supplemented by a variety of secondary defence mechanisms (e.g. hormones, B-cell activation mechanisms independent of T-cells). FIV infection among lion populations thus did not present as an epidemic. This should have been expected, but instead it was used as evidence for co-adaptation and justification for misplaced hypotheses.


In hindsight, it was compromised science. After negating the consequences of FIV infection among lions for many years, and therefore significantly supporting the hopeful view that the infection was inconsequential, O’Brien and his colleagues finally acknowledged some cracks in the façade. In the paper mentioned above, O’Brien admitted that their past conclusions were premature and oversimplified. He refers to a study undertaken by Melody Roelke (a veterinarian in his group) among Botswana lions and added the following remarks:


a) “A marked depletion of CD4 bearing T-lymphocytes was apparent in FIV infected lions, a prelude to immune collapse in well-defined AIDS [Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome];

b) In addition, there were multiple elevations of opportunistic infections… further, spleen and lymph node biopsies from nine free-ranging lions revealed evidence of lymphoid depletion, a hallmark of AIDS in human[s], cats, and macaques [a primate] … these findings strongly suggest FIV is contributing to the loss of immune competence among these lions;

c)  These observations would suggest that infection with FIV … might have increased the risk of mortality upon secondary CDV [Canine Distemper Virus] infection [during the CDV outbreak in the 1990s];

d) … the striking influence of FIV on lion immune function … clinical disposition, and a potential ancillary role in CDV mortality … affirms that FIV is likely pathogenic among lions … FIV is a potentially harmful agent in free-ranging lions, as for housecats, and deserves further scrutiny in the other free-ranging species afflicted with FIV.”


While this is good news for a belated recognition of the importance of FIV infections among lions and their resulting fragility, it also places FIV back in the mainstream of concerns for the future survival of lions. There are perhaps five or six populations of lions that number over 1000 individuals of all ages. On these populations rests the hope for the future survival of the species in Africa, and they largely occur in protected areas. Such populations are not protected from disease, and cannot be cured of FIV. Future conservation and management of the species can now move on to incorporate disease components with the brave admission from O’Brien’s research group that what they said in the past about the consequences of FIV infection among lions was “premature and oversimplified”.


We now need to move forward in a united determination to design the best conservation plans for this greatly threatened species. The threat from disease can finally unanimously be taken seriously among FIV compromised populations (basically all the five or six large populations mentioned above), and must be included in all conservation programmes as now there can be no more distractors.


 Picture:  Science Photo Library

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 16:49

A worrying parallel between rhino poaching and trade in lion bones?

South Africa has led the field of “conservation”, or so they say, by placing wildlife species in private hands. With the tremendous growth in game farms (largely as a result of environmental destruction by previous cattle ranching on those lands), there was a significant demand for wild species. These animals were supplied by auctions among the private owners as well as the State selling “surplus” wild animals to private individuals.


In the case of rhinos, this scheme of private ownership has been hailed as a great conservation success. There is frequent mention made of the great increase in both black and white rhino numbers since they were placed on game ranches. Indeed, the overall rhino numbers in South Africa now exceeds 22,000 animals, and a significant percentage of these animals are in private hands.


However, it is questionable to what extent such “private” rhinos contribute to conservation of the species. These animals are virtually all bought, sold and traded much like domestic cattle, and only exist because of the commercial value they represent to their owners. Owners had in the past two main options to profit from rhinos on their land – photographic tourism and trophy hunting.  Now, however, there is the option of selling horns, and there is a move among private owners to call for legal trade in horns given their rising monetary value in Asia.


South Africa already has an established legal trade in rhino horns and trophies;  for example, CITES trade records indicate an increasing trend in SA horn exports (17 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 90 in 2009, and 158 in 2010 – note that 2010 numbers are all preliminary at this stage since records are still being compiled). Where are the horns exported to? Many different countries, but increasingly to Vietnam (2 in 2007, 2 in 2008, 62 in 2009, and so far 93 in 2010). It should also be noted that Vietnam is becoming a major destination for rhino hunting trophies. This is strange as Vietnam (unlike let’s say the USA, Spain, Russia, and France) is not known as a country with many avid trophy hunters. It should have been clear long ago to those who issued the permits that these were all “pseudo” trophy hunts – the price that could be fetched for the horns once they arrived in Vietnam far exceeded the trophy hunting costs. Indeed, it has been reported that many of the “trophy hunters” who arrived to collect their rhinos on permit had never shot a gun before and relied on the accompanying “professional” hunters to shoot the rhino for them.


Basically, South Africa opened the floodgates by engaging in legal commercial trade of rhino horns and hunting trophies with countries like Vietnam. At a very basic level, economic theory involves supply and demand. We all know the situation is more complicated than that, and we can also say that fuel feeds a fire. Indeed, there is a direct relationship between the increased trade in rhino horns and “pseudo” trophy hunting with an increased level of poaching (83 rhinos poached in SA in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, and 448 in 2011). Once a supply is established, the demand grows by whatever means of delivery.


So how does this affect lions?  Well, what we are seeing now from CITES, SA lion export records are parallel to what was seen for rhinos a few years ago. Lion bones are increasingly important to the Asian traditional medicine trade – largely because the tigers that used to supply bones are now a bit thin on the ground. In recent years, South Africa has replied to this demand. In 2009, 250kg of lion bones were exported to Laos, followed by 556 bones in 2010. As these are CITES export records, we cannot tell you how 566 individual bones correspond to 250kg of bones, but only report to you that very few bones were exported to Laos before this date.  In 2010, 14 live lions were exported to Vietnam – why? In 2010 (so far- see above for reliability of these recent numbers) 29 skeletons went to Laos and 19 to Vietnam. Laos received 90 lion teeth and 6 skulls in 2010, and the numbers will increase.


Also worrying and similar to the rhino scenario – Laos has now become a lion trophy hunting country. Yes indeed, Laotians have discovered a very recent desire to go to South Africa to “hunt” lions – 43 trophies so far were exported in 2010 versus zero trophies in all previous years. Reminiscent of the Vietnamese rhino hunters?


The South African authorities at the Department of Environmental Affairs tell us this is all above board and largely represents bones from lions in captive breeding programmes (canned lions). We say the demand has been fuelled, and since history tends to repeat itself, we might begin to see an upsurge of lion poaching incidents parallel to current rhino poaching.


Our message to South Africa? Please do not allow yourself, legal as you might claim it is, to get engaged in exports to Asian countries demanding lion bones and derivatives.  It will stimulate an illegal market involving wild lions in all African range states. It will promote poaching of lions as it has stimulated poaching of rhinos by allowing exports to fuel Asian markets – and that market for African wildlife products is insatiable. It might be said the bones derive from captive bred lions, an industry promoted to satisfy trophy hunters by shooting lions in enclosures. Well done for commerce. 


 Asian markets used to be supplied by Asian species. Those are now gone, lost, poached to extinction, and Asia has turned to Africa. Asian markets put a premium on wild animal products as they are “stronger” than captive raised animals. Remember that the “tiger farms” in China raise animals under deplorable conditions to be killed for the medicine market much like  lions are raised under deplorable conditions to be killed for the hunting market.  And finally, remember that there are as few lions on the African continent as there are rhinos in South Africa alone.



1 Comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 22:15

 Better to over-hunt lions than not hunt them at all?

The success of a programme can be measured in two ways: gaining support amongst those who espouse the basic precepts, and a rush to seek compromises for those opposed. In terms of regulating lion trophy hunting, both measures apply. 

Since the UK Parliamentary debate on the conservation status of African lions in November 2010, LionAid has made considerable strides in alerting the public and decision-makers to both the great decline in lion numbers over the past 50 years and the additive effect that trophy hunting has made on these populations. Support is growing in Europe and among African range states to place lions on Appendix I of CITES. This move will not by itself stop trophy hunting, but will place the practice under much more careful scrutiny and impose greater limitations. Also, since import permits are required for Appendix I species, a diversity of countries are now free to make their own assessments of the trade.

In addition, we expect that the IUCN will officially designate western and central African lions as “regionally endangered” in line with their small, fragmented, and declining populations (that are still trophy hunted in Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Benin, and the Central African Republic). The IUCN has been inattentive to this deserved designation, especially now that researchers at Leiden University have conclusively shown that western and central African lions are substantially genetically distinct from those in eastern and southern Africa.

Suddenly, we are perhaps therefore seeing a flurry of calls to persuade that trophy hunting is of benefit to the species. For example, USA Today reported on a recent scientific article claiming that “limited lion hunting [is] better than [an] outright ban”. The article was written by Peter Lindsey, Guy Balme, Vernon Booth, and Neil Midlane.  Peter Lindsey has written a number of articles on trophy hunting since 2006, all of them calling for hunters to amend their ways and make lion trophy hunting more transparent and sustainable.  Lindsey always makes economic arguments, and the recent one is no different.

What is different is that Lindsey now acknowledges a bit of pressure. For one, he mentions that a consortium of what he calls “animal welfare organizations” in the USA has called for a listing of lions on the USA Endangered Species Act, and also mentions that LionAid is progressing towards import bans in the EU.

Lindsey et al’s arguments are based on finance rather than conservation. They threaten that by taking lions out of the equation, trophy hunting would become unviable across 59,538 km2 of currently designated hunting concessions, would result in massive expansion of “ecologically unfavourable” alternatives (livestock and agriculture), and would therefore result in greater mortality than trophy hunting. This is all supposition. Lindsey et al then predictably  produce the worn-out mantra that restrictions on lion hunting “may reduce the perceived financial value of lions, encouraging increased retaliatory killings for livestock depredation”, but then come up with something equally outrageous - “…over-hunting is likely to pose little threat to the long term persistence of lions so long as interventions are made to address excessive quotas where they occur … precluding lion hunting may therefore be a greater long term risk to lions than over-hunting”. So basically, over-hunting is fine according to them; better to over-hunt than not hunt at all.
To give Lindsey credit, he acknowledges that lions have been hunted at unsustainable levels (“… current profits from trophy hunting in some parts of Tanzania are probably unsustainable due to excessive harvests of lions”), and that “… a short-term moratorium on lion hunting could be considered to allow lion populations to recover…”. Also, he admits that “The trophy hunting industry is not dependent on lions for viability in most areas…”. The fact that his arguments have not made one iota of difference with the hunting industry does not seem to bother him overmuch.

Lindsey et al place too much trust in an arrogant and corrupt industry working with the support of corrupt government officials. The three major lion trophy exporting countries (excluding South Africa where there is clear evidence that captive bred lions are very significantly substituted for “wild” lion trophies) - Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe - have an average ranking of 2.7/10 on the Transparency International corruption index. Lindsey might be pushing for a kinder and gentler approach by the hunting community, but ignores the fact that such reform has hardly ever come from within the hunting industry -  it has to be imposed. Lindsey should carefully read very critical reports by Nigel Leader-Williams et al (2009) about corruption and trophy hunting and one by Baldus and Cauldwell (2004) on tourist hunting in Tanzania. The latter have this to say about the reasons for conservation failures in trophy hunting concessions:

• 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.

Undaunted, Lindsey et al also drag out once again the magical figure of $200 million per annum that trophy hunters supposedly spend in Africa. He neglects to inform that half that figure applies only to South Africa, where game ranch hunting and captive bred hunting are greatly profitable. Lindsey and his co-authors also (conveniently?) neglect to mention a 2009 economic analysis of trophy hunting by the IUCN entitled “La grande chasse en Afrique de l’Oest: quelle contribution a la conservation?”.

Among many other conclusions, the IUCN report mentions the following:

• On average in 11 countries, 14.9% of the land area has been set aside for hunting, and the average contribution of hunting to GDP is 0.06%. This means they are the least economically productive lands in the country. Trophy hunting does therefore not represent economically valuable land use, especially in the context of the need to abate [rural] poverty and hunger.

• In total, 7 countries (Namibia, Tanzania, Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, and Benin) have set aside 696,708 square kilometres (an area 2.8 times the size of the UK) for trophy hunting for a total employment of 9,703 people. It should be noted that for many, the employment does not exceed the six-month hunting season.

• In Zambia, returns from hunting in 2006 to the local population were about $1 million to use 22% of Zambia’s land. In Zimbabwe, each household (average 10 people) intermittently received between $1 and $3 per year. In Tanzania, 42 district councils received a grand total of about $1 million per year for the use of 250,000 square kilometres of land. In Benin, 300,000 people shared $70,000, so about $0.23 per person. The African country in which communities earned the least for land set aside for hunting was Tanzania, with an income of $4 per sq kilometre per year while the hunting companies earned about $110 per sq km/yr.

• Good governance is largely absent from the trophy hunting industry, and those in charge are not ready to share any level of control. Lack of transparency does not serve the State, local communities, or conservation.

While Lindsey et al speculatively contend that removing lions from the hunting menu would cause a collapse in the trophy hunting industry, this should not cause much concern. It is already an industry that functions only for the benefit of the operators and country elites to the disregard of communities, conservation of wildlife, and land management. That small group has until now had a monopoly on dictating how they want to (mis)utilize wildlife resources for their own benefits, but such activities no longer stand conservation scrutiny. To be effective in campaigning for the positive role of trophy hunting, Lindsey and his co-authors, as well as the Panthera Foundation (supposedly supporting the conservation of big cats worldwide, who employ Lindsey and co-author Balme, and who paid for the study) need to perhaps publish fewer vested-interest articles and actively engage in making changes to current trophy hunting malpractices.


Picture credit : http://bit.ly/Ac3aJh

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:18

Canine distemper virus, domestic dog vaccination, lions and cheetahs

In a recent article  Alienor Cauvenet and co-authors from the Institute of Zoology, London looked at the impact of domestic dog canine distemper vaccination campaigns, the positive impact on lion populations in the Serengeti, and the possibly negative implications on cheetah populations in the same ecosystem. Basically, their conclusions were that the vaccinations and the resulting diminution of canine distemper virus in the ecosystem benefited one species (lions) but had a consequent negative effect on cheetah populations, as the subsequently rebounding lion population had adverse effects on cheetah reproduction. The article was written as a supposed cautionary message against promoting the conservation of one species over another.


The article was based on selective use of information, a lack of understanding of introduced diseases on susceptible carnivore populations, and evident unfamiliarity of evolutionary relationships among carnivore species. In short, it is no more than a series of assumptions.


But let’s start with a bit of history. In 1994 a canine distemper virus outbreak swept through the Serengeti, killing an estimated one third (1000) of lions in the population. The outbreak also killed lions in the Masai Mara and in the Ngorongoro Crater. The virus was isolated and genetically typed – but then compared to a South African strain in claims that it was a genetic variant of possibly higher virulence. The outbreak, according to authors in the journal Nature (Roelke-Parker at al, 2006), also affected hyenas, bat-eared foxes, and leopards. In the Masai Mara, an earlier outbreak resulted in local extinction of the African Wild Dog population (Alexander et al 1993, J. Zoo Wildl. Med; Alexander & Appel 1994, J. Wildl. Dis;  Alexander et al 1995, J. Zoo Wildl. Med), and a subsequent outbreak in the northeastern Serengeti killed more Wild Dogs in 2007 (Goller et al 2007, Vet. Microbiol). The outbreak also likely affected carnivores like jackals (Canis adustus, Canis mesomelas, and Canis aureus) at least. Canine distemper has a very wide host range, extending from Lesser Pandas to raccoons, canids to felids.


In response to the 1994 outbreak, Project Life Lion was established to vaccinate domestic dogs in the area, the source and maintenance host population for further epidemics. Was this necessary? I believe so. Canine distemper is an introduced and emerging disease among African carnivores. The virus, like the most prevalent form of rabies in Africa, comes from domestic dogs, a carnivore introduced by humans to sub-Saharan Africa and Tanzania not much more than 500 years ago.


After the distemper outbreak with high mortality among lions, subsequent sampling among a number of survivors indicated that 85% had antibodies. In other words, not all infected lions died, another widely observed consequence of canine distemper virus among a diversity of susceptible carnivores. With that level of protective antibodies among survivors, was the vaccination programme necessary among domestic dogs? The answer is again yes, as that maintenance host population will probably spawn repeated epidemics, and apart from lions, very many other carnivores will be affected.


Now let’s return to the paper by Cauvenet et al. Their assertion is that the vaccination programme (despite the evidence of protective antibodies among lions) was responsible for a resurgence in lion populations in the Serengeti, much to the disadvantage of sympatric cheetahs. They say that this “unintended” consequence of protecting one species (lions) with a vaccination programme of domestic dogs could lead to the demise of another species (cheetahs) – because lions kill cheetah cubs and adults.


 Not only do Cauvenet et al ignore the fact that a great number of other species were negatively affected by the distemper outbreak, they also ignore three other important pieces of information. First, lions and cheetahs have probably been interacting negatively on the African savannahs for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years. Lions also cause mortality among other sympatric predators like hyenas, Wild Dogs, and leopards. Lions are apex predators after all, and the composition of the entire predator and prey community is shaped by their presence. Second, tacitly accepting that an unchecked and introduced disease should alter this ancient formula to the benefit of a single species (cheetahs) is nonsensical. And third, their naïve acceptance that cheetahs are not themselves affected by canine distemper is unsubstantiated.


For example, studies in Namibia by Munson et al (2004 – J. Wildl. Dis) indicate that 24% of a sample of 81 free-ranging cheetahs in an area of likely contact with domestic dogs had canine distemper antibodies. They say “Antibodies against CDV were detected in cheetahs of all ages sampled between 1995 and 1998, suggesting the occurrence of an epidemic in Namibia during the time when CDV swept through other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. This evidence in free-ranging Namibian cheetahs of exposure to viruses that cause severe disease in captive cheetahs should direct future guidelines for translocations, including quarantine of seropositive cheetahs and preventing contact between cheetahs and domestic pets.”  Given the wide host range of canine distemper, it is very likely that cheetahs will also be susceptible, and suffer population consequences of an epidemic.


In summary, introduced and emerging diseases among wildlife populations should be actively addressed. Assertions that one species (cheetahs) might benefit from unchecked outbreaks among competitors (lions) are specious. Especially when such outbreaks could affect cheetahs themselves, and also have significant consequences on a great number of other sympatric carnivores. Cauvenet et al’s paper should  have been more vigilantly reviewed.


Picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cheetah_portrait_Whipsnade_Zoo.jpg

Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 19:54

  Lion trophy hunting and range state population numbers

Please click on this link to see a country by country assessment of lion trophy hunting for African nations that permit(ted) the practice. This is the most up-to-date analysis, and includes CITES export numbers, threat assessments for lion populations in each country, a summary statement for each country, and a conclusion on trophy hunting offtake.

Please bring this report to the attention of members of Congress, Senators, Members of Parliaments, and Members of European Parliament who represent you. It is a document that all decision makers need to see to end lion sport hunting. We need your active participation to circulate this report. Thank you.


Picture Credit : Chris Harvey



Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:45

 In preparing an overall trophy hunting report for Africa, I was again reminded of some very strange happenings in South Africa. It has to do with the numbers of “wild” lion trophies exported over the past ten years, and the paltry few lions available to make up such exports. Let me explain.



South Africa, according to various reports, has anywhere between 2130 and 3852 wild lions. In case you should be worried, all these lion populations are behind fences. There have been a number of “private reserves” established, one of them next to the Sun City entertainment resort, where lions have been introduced from Namibia to add entertainment to game drives. Then there are a few National Parks with lions - notably Kruger that boasts over 2000 lions within the very large reserve. And then of course there are “game ranches” that offer lion hunting, but these are all derived from a captive population of well over 4000 lions specifically bred for trophy hunting. CITES (the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora – a watchdog organization that is supposed to strictly regulate trade in endangered and vulnerable species and that is about as effective as an umbrella in a hurricane) therefore has two categories of lions exported as trophies from South Africa: “ranched/captive bred” and “wild”.



Now if you should happen to peruse the CITES trade website (perhaps when there is nothing good on TV) you will see that South Africa exported a total of 2651 “wild” lion trophies between 2000 and 2009 when reliable records end. This is a puzzlement. You see, South Africa just does not have that many wild lions in hunting concessions. Sure, some of the concessions directly bordering on Kruger Park allow trophy hunting (good deal, they took down the original border fence between Kruger and the concession, so wildlife flows in and out – one minute in a hunting area, next in a protected area). Also, some of the private reserves allow trophy hunting of their excess lions (not advertised to the tourists). But that, really, is about it.



There is not much of a price difference between hunting a canned lion versus a “wild” lion, but “real” hunters turn up their noses at any lion that has a sniff of captive breeding – they want what they are promised – a wild one, and not a “wild” one within the past 2 or 3 days. South Africa has fast and loose designations – according to their regulations, any captive bred lion turned loose in a field with a few antelopes is “deemed” to be wild. So last week it was a captive animal and a few days later it is wild. Quite convenient.



But let’s give the hunters the benefit of the doubt. Are there any “wild” lions to be hunted in South Africa? In any truly wild population, about 15% of the lions are adult males, about 35% adult females, and the rest subadults and cubs. So if you take the wildly optimistic figure of 3852 wild lions in South Africa, that means only 578 are adult males. Then say that optimistically that 5% of those males occur in hunting concessions (contiguous with National Parks) -  so 29 males provide an average trophy offtake over the past ten years of 265 “wild” trophies per annum. I should point out that South Africa also exported 3024 “captive/ranched” lion trophies over the past ten years to 2009.



You are by now beginning to get my point. A famous parallel could be made with Burundi, a densely populated country that perhaps had a handful of elephants (some say one). From 1973 to 1982, 300 tonnes of ivory were exported from Burundi to Belgium (before the 1990 ivory ban). Later, Burundi was allowed to export another 89.5 tonnes of stockpiled ivory by CITES. Quite amazing how so few can provide so much.



So where do all those “wild” lions exported from South Africa come from? There are three explanations. The first is that those lions are regularly placed in South Africa by aliens from a distant planet. We can sort of dismiss that possibility with apologies to those who firmly believe aliens walk among us. The second is that the lions are hunted illegally in neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique and declared in South Africa as resident lions. That has some degree of possibility. For example, there is evidence that in 2007 19 lions were shot but official CITES export numbers from Mozambique show only 15 exported from that country. In 2008, trophy fees were paid for 22 lions, but only 18 exported from Mozambique. The third, and most likely, is that captive bred lions are sold to clueless clients as “wild” lions. It’s quite easy really – bring a client to a hunting “concession”, let him slog around for many days, secretly buy a lion from a breeder, set it out in the area, and then lead the client to it. Presto chango and the rabbit comes out of the hat. Virtually every single lion hunted in South Africa was bred in captivity. Going home and boasting you went on a “dangerous game” lion hunt in South Africa and registering your “wild” trophy for the SCI record books is a fallacy and a delusion. 



It is a wonderment that CITES and other relevant authorities have not picked up on this discrepancy. I will surely lose sleep over all those poor clients (71% of South African “wild” lion trophies end up in the USA, a country seemingly stuffed with gullible hunters). South African operators and professional hunters have played you well. Caveat emptor for all you credulous clients who will doubtless flock to the next SCI convention in 2012 and sign up for some more “wild” lion hunts in South Africa. Those of you with “wild” trophies, perhaps consider a lawsuit for having been sold falsely advertised goods, and SCI – take all those “wild” lions hunted in South Africa off your record books, recall your awards and rings and whatever other honours you bestow. You have all been duped.





Add a comment | Posted by Pieter Kat at 17:24