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.

Wild lion hunting

Monday 25th August 2014

Wild lion graph

It is not conservation


Please look carefully at this graph of the numbers of wild lion trophies exported over the past 20 years from the diversity of African lion range states that permit lion hunting.

The data comes from the 20 years 1993-2012. You will note I have not included South Africa in this graph as virtually all lions hunted there are captive bred and then transported to fenced locations for hunters to shoot.

What you will see is some very high hunting numbers especially in Tanzania and Zimbabwe that exceeded 300 trophies per year in early years. What you will also see is a significant decline in recent years. Why is there this decline?

Certainly not out of a concern by the hunting operators to offer their clients fewer lions – quotas have not changed. It is largely because all the trophy lions in hunting concessions have been shot out. It is not because lion hunting is difficult – lions are baited in all the countries listed to make hunting easier. Lions are lured out of protected areas as well.

It is just simply a sad reflection of how badly the concept of “conservation hunting” has worked in practice. Big spin, no result.

Wild lion trophy hunting should cease across Africa. Unless and until trophy hunting operators can prove that shooting wild lions is actually conserving their numbers no further hunting should be permitted.

It is just that simple.



 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:13

Ebola and bushmeat

Sunday 24th August 2014


A virus coming to your neighbourhood?


Ebola virus has been much in the news recently. Infected humans have up to an 80% mortality rate, and the virus seems also to be communicated to health care workers even while dressed in their “space suits”.

The recent western Africa outbreak has killed more people than any other previous epidemic and shows no signs of abating. Travel advisories have been issued to source countries in western Africa and borders have been closed.

The World Health Organization has declared it a crisis, and so has the parent organization, the United Nations.


The WHO has not told people to stop eating bushmeat. While we still do not know the source of the Ebola virus, there is very good evidence that it has a wildlife source. Closely related Marburg virus has been isolated from fruit bats, and most Ebola virus outbreaks can be traced back (like the current one) to someone bitten by a monkey.

Another UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, also needs to get involved. While the FAO says this:

  • In the Congo Basin, 34 million people depend on bushmeat for protein consuming estimated 579 million forest mammals annually adding up to about 5 million tonnes of dressed wild meat.
  • Hunting rates in tropical Africa are more than six times greater than sustainable levels.
  • In Asia large animals are already gone from most tropical forests.

They also say this:

"FAO prepared a regional GEF project for Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic to implement / test a new approach to bushmeat: the legal, sustainable use of selected non-threatened species through participatory wildlife management. "

So on the one hand the FAO bemoans biodiversity loss and then institutes a Global Environment Fund program to “sustainably utilize” bushmeat in a diversity of countries?

The bushmeat trade is both a reflection of poverty among rural communities and a commercial trade. For example, it is estimated that each year 270 tonnes of illegal bushmeat reaches Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport alone. Where are the sniffer dogs? 

Perhaps the WHO and the FAO could join forces to condemn rather than promote the bushmeat trade. It would aid both conservation and the health of people who consume this product.

Picture credit: https://readtiger.com/wkp/en/Ebola_virus_disease


If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 



Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 15:41

Lions also get sick

Friday 22nd August 2014

FIV lion

At death’s door


In addition to all the other problems that lions have, they also suffer from a diversity of diseases. Some have been communicated by domestic animals – like canine distemper virus and bovine tuberculosis – but lions also have their own viruses that increase their fragility.

The lion above was photographed in the Masai Mara some time ago and shows all the classic symptoms of infection by Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Like people infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus, this lion shows massive muscle wasting especially noticeable on the hind legs. The lion was probably about 2-3 years old and would have died shortly after the picture was taken.

How prevalent is FIV? The few remaining large lion populations in Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania show infection rates of over 90%. Like HIV, these infected animals do not die immediately. Immunodeficiency viruses fall in a family called lentiviruses – they work slowly as the name implies. Once infected, the lion’s immune system becomes slowly eroded and their lifespan shortened. Five lion FIV strains have been identified with differing levels of virulence. Some lion populations, like those in Etosha National Park in Namibia and western African lions seem not to be infected – or at least not infected by currently known FIV strains.

Infection can occur across the placenta from infected mothers, by contact with saliva from infected individuals, by bite, and by mating. Cubs infected at birth or in utero have short lifespans, and many die stillborn. Other lions get infected later in life and can live further years before they succumb.

A lion with an impaired immune system will not be able to withstand all the parasitic infections they are daily exposed to. This includes infections from organisms like hookworm and tapeworm, micro-organisms like babesia and theileria, and a whole host of viruses.

Yet disease research among lion populations is not receiving the needed attention. LionAid would call on all researchers and veterinarians who handle wild lions to ensure that blood samples are taken. These should then be stored in national and international repositories to enable Africa-wide studies. So much more data is needed and is not being collected….

Obviously, we cannot do very much about these diseases. We cannot vaccinate lions against canine distemper and rabies and FIV. We cannot give them pills to cure worm infections and antibiotics to battle bacterial infections. What we can do is learn much more about the challenges diseases pose to remaining lion populations and act accordingly to prevent, for example, contact with domestic animals like domestic dogs that transmit canine distemper to a wide variety of wild carnivores.

An understanding of the epidemiology of diseases in wild animals is crucial to informed conservation management. Much more attention needs to be paid.


If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 13:46

Better run fast cheetahs...

Thursday 21st August 2014


Running against time


First, a few facts about cheetahs:

  • We all know that cheetahs are the fastest land mammals. But how fast do they run? Some say close to 120km/hr, but that is not really believable. A captive cheetah in the Cincinnati Zoo was clocked at 97km/hr – but that’s a zoo animal and not a fit wild cheetah. Usain Bolt ran 100m for a world record of 9.58 seconds. A cheetah could do it in a little over 5 seconds.
  • But cheetahs cannot keep up this pace for long. They stalk their prey like many other cats and then charge out of their starting blocks at a lightning pace. Unlike Usain, they do not run in straight lines but have to change course often with the help of their tails. Cheetahs tire quickly. 
  • Cheetahs are most closely related to pumas and jaguarundis. They form a large “clade” with domestic cats, lynxes, ocelots, caracals, etc. They are only distantly related to the other “big cats” like lions, leopards, tigers and jaguars. 
  • Cheetahs have been shown to have only very limited genetic variability. Cheetahs are so closely related that studies in the 1980s showed that they fully accepted skin grafts from other cheetahs. Cheetahs also suffer from a very high level of sperm abnormalities and do not reproduce well in captivity.
  •  Cheetah cubs suffer very high mortalities in nature – especially where cheetah populations occur together with lions and hyenas.
  • About six subspecies of cheetahs are recognized – Asian, northwestern and central African, eastern African, southern African, and northern African. Likely there are only two major genetic divisions – Asian/western African cheetahs and all other populations.
  • The world cheetah population is estimated at about 12,000 – and the country with the most cheetahs is Namibia with about 2,500.

However, Namibia is also the country that is foremost in the number of cheetahs shot as hunting trophies. During the ten years 2003 – 2012, Namibia exported 1,114 trophies – mostly from adult males. From a population of 2,500 cheetahs of all ages and both sexes? 2012 showed an increase of over 200% in cheetah trophy exports from the year before.

Cheetah trophies are mainly exported to Germany, France and Austria. The USA does not allow importation of cheetah trophies as the species has been placed on the US Endangered Species Act. The European Union seems to think cheetahs are just fine to be hunted it would seem?

In Namibia, conservation organizations like the Cheetah Conservation Fund among others accept trophy hunting as part of the cheetah conservation formula .

Better run fast cheetahs – it would seem there is not much time left on your clock in Namibia. Trophy hunting in addition to natural mortality and problem animal control by farmers and disease problems and genetic problems might just win the running race?


Picture credit:  http://bbc.in/XDhFB3 


If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:02

South Africa does well out of captive lions

Wednesday 20th August 2014

Captive bred lions 

From South Africa, I supply the world...



As many of you know, CITES publishes a trade database on the Internet. But the records are always about two years behind – apparently this delay results from processing hand-written records.

But in 2012, South Africa exported these amounts of lion products:

  • 170 lion “bodies”, an increase of 290% over the average from the past four years. “Bodies” are exported to Asia for the medicine trade
  • 846 kg of lion bones for the Chinese Medicine Trade
  • 274 live lions, an increase of 180% over the average from the past four years, most exported to highly dubious destinations
  • 178 lion skins, an increase of 274% over the average from the past four years
  • 132 lion skulls, an increase of 200% from the average of the past four years
  • 901 lion “trophies” – a slight increase from the average of 891 trophies over the past four years

It would seem captive lion breeding is doing well in terms of earning income.

As for wild lions, trophy hunting exports show the following:

  • Burkina Faso exported no trophies during 2011 and 2012
  • Benin exported 3 lion trophies in 2012 from a very small and declining population
  • Cameroon has not exported lion trophies from 2009-2012. Not surprising as there are perhaps 100 lions left in that country
  • Mozambique exported 31 lion trophies, over double of the 14 exported in 2011
  • Namibia exported 22 lion trophies, a slight increase from 17 in 2011
  • Tanzania exported 62 lion trophies, a slight increase from 55 in 2011
  • Zimbabwe exported 68 lion trophies, a 136% increase over 2011

So overall the pattern looks like this: South African captive bred lions are dominating all aspects of the trade in lion products. This could be for several reasons -

  • Buying a lion in South Africa brings a guarantee of a trophy as these animals are captive bred and put out in a field for the “hunter” to shoot.
  • Buying a captive bred lion in South Africa is cheap compared to a wild lion.
  • Due to excessive hunting in the past, there are few wild lions left, so the only place to go trophy “hunting” these days is South Africa.
  • Over the past five years to 2012, South Africa exported 4,473 lion trophies. Over that same period, Zimbabwe exported 270, Zambia 337, Tanzania 527. 
  • It is said there are 8,000 lions in captive breeding programs in South Africa. This would seem an underestimate to be able to supply 4,473 adult lion trophies, 440 skins and 932 live lions for export over the five years 2008-2012. 
  • There are good organizations in South Africa attempting to make a change in this captive lion breeding, but the increases in all categories quoted above means they must work much harder.
  • At the end of the day, it is only strict import restrictions of captive bred lion products from South Africa that will make any forward progress. Local programmes would seem to be equivalent to attempting demand reduction of ivory in China – it will be very slow progress at best.

So what is the take-home message from the above?

  • Wild lions have already decreased to the point that their trophy hunting numbers have dropped radically. This is despite all efforts by hunting operators to “deliver” lions to their clients including baiting and calling.
  • Nobody knows how many wild lions remain. There should be an immediate moratorium on all wild lion trophy hunting until independent surveys can establish remaining lion numbers.
  • South Africa provides a “service” for lion trophy hunters via captive bred lions. This “service“ should be banned as it is based on animal cruelty. All importing nations should ban any further (CITES approved) entry of any lion product from South Africa. Lions should not be bred for the bullet. 
  • Lions should be placed on the endangered species lists of all international organizations. The reluctance to do so has been greatly influenced by trophy hunting pressure. If trophy hunters did indeed “conserve” lions by hunting them there should be many more thousands of wild lions in Africa. LionAid calls on WWF, IUCN and similar organizations that still think lion trophy hunting conserves lions to rapidly change course to a more educated reality. 
  • LionAid would call on all African countries to declare lions as a nationally protected species.


Picture credit: http://binged.it/XABokX 



If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:13

Elephant poaching

Grab the dragon by the tail?


At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would like to say something again I have said many times before.

But let me back up a bit first.

Clearly, elephants are in crisis in Africa. Surveys are now ongoing in several locations to see how many remain. One survey, funded by the Frankfurt Zoological Society, indicated that the huge area known as the Selous in Tanzania has about 13,800 elephants left.

Down from an estimated 70,000 in 2009 – so a reduction of 80%. In FIVE years….

It is probably as grim everywhere else in Africa. I don’t know why some people, like the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, still insist that there are something like 600,000 elephants in Africa. They don’t even acknowledge the crucial genetic difference between forest and savannah elephants. As with CITES, an elephant is an elephant with the IUCN. Forest elephants, Loxodonta cyclotis, are critically endangered. Lumping them together with savannah elephants might increase overall numbers, but should not fool us.

One of the major causes of elephant population decreases, if not the most important reason, is poaching. We all know this.

Africans do the poaching and Chinese do the buying. We also all know this.

So where to most effectively prevent the slaughter?

Africa is far too corrupt to make any real changes soon. In Kenya it is alleged that the poaching kingpins rank high in government and are immune from prosecution.

In China, good organizations like WildAid are attempting to make inroads into the levels of ivory consumption. But that will also take long.

So where should pressure be placed?

China again. Although the Chinese say they are against the illegal trafficking of ivory (and indeed have destroyed some illegal ivory earlier this year) they still insist that the African ivory being sold in their shops is legal and derived from the CITES-approved sale in 2008.

Let’s just make some strides in this.

Test the ivory that is being carved and sold. It is not difficult and the DNA techniques are in place – for example in the laboratory of Sam Wasser in Seattle in the USA. Any ivory from eastern and western Africa is automatically illegal, and any shop or carving factory in possession of such ivory should be closed and all assets seized.

Let’s not pussy-foot around anymore. Test the ivory, show China that it is dealing in illegal products, and shut down the trade.

Same with Thailand by the way.

WildAid has an oft-repeated motto – “When the buying stops, the killing can too”. I would like to coin a new one “When the testing starts, the sellers will be exposed”.


Picture credit: http://bit.ly/1s5dI0T 



If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:21

Ivory stockpiles

Keep it fresh


A recent article in Wildlife News indicated that UK Africa Minister Mark Simmonds “assured the Tanzanian government that the UK would help it to maintain and store the vast ivory stockpile.”

This stockpile is supposed to measure 137 tonnes of tusks.

But let’s take a few steps back to look at what facts are available for this apparent UK government decision:

  1. Prior to the CITES Conference of Parties in Bangkok, Tanzania put in a bid to be able to sell their ivory stockpiles
  2. One of the reasons given was that there was considerable expense associated with “maintaining” the warehouses and “ensuring” security - “There are costs associated with storage and stockpiling ivory. The longer the stockpile remains under storage the more its quality and therefore value declines. On the other hand, costs associated with collection, storage and management of the stockpile continues to increase. Such costs, which include also 24 hours surveillance, fumigation and monitoring, stand at about USD 100,000 per year. Besides, with over 100 tonnes the present strong room is full. This calls for another building as more ivory will keep on being collected. Building a new strong room shall cost over $ 1 million excluding the cost of acquiring a construction plot.This comes with added costs of providing security and maintenance. Clearly this money could be better used in other more important conservation activities.” 
  3. The CITES proposal was withdrawn, but then Tanzania sought other avenues to gain finance.
  4. In February 2014, the President of Tanzania attended the London Summit on the Illegal Wildlife Trade. There was some controversy. After all, this same president was backing a highway through the Serengeti and a uranium mine in the Selous Game Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site. Not surprisingly the media provided this report
  5. At the Summit, President Kikwete agreed to some sort of level of non-trading. Many secondary reports came out – and it seems most likely that Kikwete agreed to stop ivory trading proposals for about 10 years – in return for concessions. This is the way politics works – we all know very well the old adage – “if you rub my back I’ll rub yours”…
  6. So – did the UK agree to pay to maintain the cost of the ivory stockpile – a considerable concern expressed by Tanzania as a reason to sell it – as a means of ensuring Tanzania’s promise not to raise the ivory sale issue for another ten years?
  7. The mind boggles. I will remind you of a 1938 statement by UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who said “Peace for Our Time” after the Munich Agreement to appease Germany to annex parts of Czechoslovakia. A year later Germany invaded Poland and started WWII.
  8. Is this “Peace for Our Time” for ivory just for an equally short time? Tanzania meanwhile is contesting a USFWS moratorium on elephant trophy hunting imports into the USA – the USFWS calling trophy hunting “not conducive to conservation”. It does not look good for Tanzania’s political will to do better to conserve remaining elephant populations.

So, where do we go from here? Tanzania as a sovereign nation is free to do with its ivory stockpile as it wishes. Selling it on the international market – China- is not going to be allowed by CITES anytime in the future. Meanwhile the UK seems to agree to provide funding to maintain the warehoused ivory under the best possible conditions.

Also meanwhile, living elephants are being poached out of existence in Tanzania. It is alleged that authorities know the identities of the poaching kingpins. But they will not act against them as they might be embarrassingly connected to the highest levels of government.

I for one will contact Mark Simmonds to ask for further clarity on this issue. He spends UK taxpayer money on a scheme not even vaguely known to UK taxpayers. And that is an issue even bigger than an elephant.


Picture credit: Tom Pilston



 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 17:13


All advice indicates – get more involved!!



On any given day, there are tens of thousands of petitions available requesting your “signature”. There are scores of internet sites where you can “design” your own petition or request a “signature campaign”. It is a huge growth industry, but the question remains – how effective are they?

Without much more research, the most acceptable answer is that we do not really know. But I did do a bit of research on a diversity of sites to find out what people “in the know” have so far written.

The basic message is that it is very complicated. For example, there could be a petition that comes to your attention to stop hunting of wolves in Iowa. You can surely sign that petition addressed to the local authorities, but unless you actually live in Iowa there will be no attention paid. Another petition might be on a broader scale – like stopping the culling of badgers in the UK. Again, you might sign this but unless you live in the UK (and are therefore a potential voter), your signature will have little effect on government agencies or ministers.

People who have done a modicum of research on the effectiveness of online petitions have this to say:

  1.  “Those truly committed to righting the wrongs of the world are encouraged to take pen in hand and craft actual letters to their congressmen or to whomever they deem are the appropriate people to contact about particular issues. Real letters (the kind that are written in a person’s own words and sent through the regular mail) are accorded far more respect than form letters (let alone petitions), and that should be kept in mind by those intent upon being heard. Yes, the effort it takes is far larger. But so is the potential for making an actual difference.”
  2.  “About the only thing that Snopes [an internet investigative agency] does think an online petition is good for is informing the signers of the petition about a situation they might not have heard about before. And then, in the best case scenario, they will go try to do something effective about it. In the worst case scenario, they will feel they have done something important just by signing an online petition (and possibly spamming their friends).” See full article here. 
  3.  “Of the 2589 petitions presented to the [Australian] House of Representatives since 1999, only three have received a ministerial response…. “
  4. “A petition is often the start of a long fight for change. In the case of the [UK] national forests, half a million of us signed up. 38 Degrees [a petition organization] then brought together these people to fund a YouGov study, speak to their MPs, put advertisements in national newspapers and apply pressure on an independent panel. This particular journey was 27 months long, and led to victory when the government was forced to revoke the policy.” See full article here.
  5.  “Despite the best efforts of the UK government to make 100,000 signatures the arbitrary petition signer threshold for access to our own elected leaders, there are no hard and fast rules. It's not the size of the petition, it's what the signers do that counts.” See full article here.
  6. “Here is the last petition you should ever sign:                                                                   I will stop hiding behind a computer and instead and instead get out there and take action. I will become an ACTIVE activist. I will get out there and protest issues I opposeI will attend events and rallies that are important to me. I will start committees and grassroots movements to incite real change and make the world a better place.” See full article here.
  7. “But so far the evidence does seem to point to most petitions being nearly useless except in terms of raising awareness and bringing communities together (which can certainly be good things, but are not usually the stated goals of petitions). However, I’m guessing that how a petition is written, targeted, and publicized, and which organization(s) are backing it can make a difference as to how it is received. If someone like the ACLU gathers hundreds of thousands of signatures and then goes to the media with these numbers, that publicity might help effect change. “  See full article here.

So overall the message seems to boil down to this:

  1. Make sure that your signature actually “counts”. This means your IP address has to match the qualification of being in the right place, sometimes even with the right physical address. 
  2. Read the petition carefully. Assess the source and what you think your signature will add. Then, write to the petition organizer and ask what they will do with your signature. Will they put out a press release to the media saying “we have gathered xxx signatures so let’s make this a bigger issue?”
  3. Write a letter to your government representative and tell them that you signed the petition. Better yet, tell them this is an issue of concern to you and ask for a meeting when they are next back in your constituency. Telephone their office also.
  4. If you sign a petition it should not end there. If you write a letter to your government representative and if you do not receive a reply within a reasonable amount of time, write another one or phone them. If you receive a reply that you do not agree with (and remember that your Congressperson or Parliamentarian has access to standard letters written for them by a “service”) then you are free to write them again. Keep up the pressure!
  5.  Remember that the people addressed in the petition know that such petitions can overall be ignored. A petition should be a first step on a journey that would be much better for your continued and active participation. Consider that your signature means not only that you agree, but also that you agree to be involved in the issue. 
  6. Signing a petition should be seen as your willingness to put your “ante” in a poker game. It means you are “in” for the next round. If you drop out after putting up your “ante”, you are no longer in the game.

By all means, sign online petitions. It’s easy. But all indications are that you must please follow up to be effective.

Keep involved!

Picture credit:  http://bit.ly/1kA1oRE


 If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 15:41

Tolerance for predators?

Monday 7th July 2014

Tolerance for predators

Off we go to retaliate… 


In an excellent article in the journal Science, authors Adrian Treves and Jeremy Bruskotter examined various attempted means of reducing declines of predator populations due to direct human causes. They say that scientists and policy-makers have concluded that promoting tolerance to such predators is critical to conservation efforts, but that the factors that promote tolerance are not well understood.

Treves and Bruskotter begin by stating that “whether in the form of eradication policies (such as bounties) or illegal killing” it is widely assumed that intolerant behaviour is “motivated by retaliation for real and perceived losses of livelihood”.

Consequently, a number of governments and NGOs have implemented compensation schemes to reduce the economic consequences of living with predators. Do these work?

Well, yes and no. The authors look at Sweden – where reindeer herders are paid to tolerate predators. And it worked – for wolverines, brown bears and lynxes. But not for wolves. Another study concluded that 51% of Sweden’s wolves had been killed illegally by individuals between 1998 and 2009. So reindeer herders basically accepted payments to tolerate predators that do not have much of a negative impact on their “livestock” – but wolves were still being killed.

The authors then mention that such compensation programmes need to be supplemented by social change – quoting a joint programme in Kenya where (partial) compensation is matched by community guards urging no retaliation. While this programme doubtless performs better than locations where there is no compensation in preventing killing of predators, the results need a more robust evaluation. For example in Sweden, 69% of the wolves killed by communities were hidden.

The authors then move on to another important subject – what they call the “influence of peers and social norms”. Here they use an example of jaguars in Brazil – and conclude that ranchers kill jaguars because their neighbours do. Also they mention that if there are government eradication schemes in place – like for wolves in Wisconsin – tolerance of wolves greatly declines. This makes sense – if the government wants to get rid of wolves and peers want to get rid of jaguars, why should individuals tolerate them?

The authors not surprisingly conclude that mixed messages are dangerous. But the authors also do not address many other important points. One of which, to be sure, is that perhaps predators prey on livestock (and reindeer) because their natural prey base has been significantly destroyed. In Sweden, wolves cannot exist on rabbits alone, and while compensation might be available to reindeer farmers, what is the government doing to ensure that wolves do not, out of increasing necessity, need to turn to farmed reindeer for their sustenance? Similarly, in Kenya, has rampant bushmeat poaching reduced natural large predator prey populations to the extent that they need to turn to cattle to survive?

In which case compensation and social education has a very limited prospect of success. The very basic tenet in Kenya and Tanzania is that pastoralists like the Maasai have traditionally tolerated (some) predators on their land. Maasai, for example, have a long and existing cultural relationship with lions – but not so much with leopards and cheetah and not at all with hyenas. And even with lions, a Maasai Elder recently said – “I like lions but not when they are near my boma”.

The authors also, and perhaps unsurprisingly, do not address tolerance schemes proposed by trophy hunters. That scheme says that by allowing trophy hunting to take a few predators, and paying communities for hunting concessions on their land, there will be increased tolerance. Or did the authors not find much supporting evidence for this scheme? See our blog on the minimal returns to communities from hunting concessions on their land.

Clearly much more needs to be done to improve tolerance for predators. These animals have a high “existence value” for some and a negative existence value for others.

It is imperative and overdue that the communities themselves have to be involved in designing tolerance programmes – conditions, effectiveness and relevance – as the communities are the ones who will ultimately decide on the fate of very many surviving predator populations.
Community involvement in wildlife conservation has long been “promoted” by conservation agencies but we have yet to see significant involvement of grassroots initiatives being taking seriously.

We have proposals for such a programme and are seeking funding.

With existing tolerance programmes predator survival rather significantly remains in the balance.


Picture credit: http://bit.ly/1vRqTTS 




If you have not already signed up to our mailing list, you can add your name here and keep up to date with our ongoing work and, most importantly, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you.


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 14:18

Black gold or white gold of jihad?

Thursday 26th June 2014

Black gold

An Al-Shabaab collection centre just down the road


Recently, I wrote a blog questioning the involvement of ivory as a major source of income for terrorist groups in contrast to local militia groups. Doubtless both are dangerous and cause much instability, but the alleged involvement of “terrorist” groups like Somalia’s Al-Shabaab in ivory trafficking sent alarm bells ringing across the world.

The information about Al-Shabaab’s significant involvement in ivory trading (reportedly worth 40% of their income came from a report by the Elephant Action League and was picked up after some time by the New York Times. The NYT article ends with this call to action:

“… the U.S. military [should] join the fight to save elephants in Africa. We will all be safer if they do.”

No mincing of words there – send in the Marines!

But - are terrorist groups (as opposed to militias) involved in illegal ivory trafficking?

Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution says no:

“… terrorism is not proliferating because of poaching. Terrorism is driven by its own enabling factors, which are varied and complex. Poaching has nowhere is the world generated new terrorists … it is equally crucial to acknowledge that much poaching – in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa – takes place in the absence of violent conflicts and are not carried out by terrorists or other armed groups”.

The Elephant Action League says yes. In fact, they say -

“In effect, ivory serves as one of the lifelines of al-Shabaab, enabling it to maintain its grip over young soldiers, most of who are not radically motivated. According to a source within the militant group, between one to three tons of ivory, fetching a price of roughly US$200 per kilo, pass through the ports in southern Somalia every month.

A quick calculation puts Shabaab’s monthly income from ivory at between US$200,000 and US$600,000.”

That would translate to $2.4 million to $7.2 million annually.

Most recently, the UN says no. A report entitled “Illegal trade in wildlife: the environmental, social and economic consequences for sustainable development”, mentions the following:

“Ivory … provides a portion of the income raised by militia groups in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is probably a primary source of income for the Lord’s Resistance Army currently operating in the border triangle of the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. Similarly, ivory provides a source of income for the Sudanese Janjaweed and other horseback gangs operating between Chad, the Niger and the Sudan. Given the local abundance of elephants and the estimated number of elephants killed within striking range of these militia groups, the likely annual income from ivory for such groups in the whole of eastern, western and central sub Saharan Africa is probably in the order of $4 million–$12.2 million.”

“Al Shabaab’s primary income appears to be from informal taxation at roadblock checkpoints and ports, and they have been known to make up to between $8 million and $18 million per year from charcoal traffic at a single roadblock in Somalia’s Badade District. The export of charcoal from Kismayo and Baraawe ports in particular has increased since the institution of a Security Council charcoal export ban. Al Shabaab retains about one third of the income from that export, which represents between $38 million and $56 million. The overall size of the illicit charcoal export trade from Somalia has been estimated at between $360 million and $384 million per year. Although further investigation is needed into the role of charcoal in threat finance, for African countries in conflict, including the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia and the Sudan, a conservative estimate suggests that the militia and terrorist groups in the regions may earn, depending on prices, from $111 million to $289 million annually from their involvement in taxing and their control of the illegal or unregulated charcoal trade.”

This is a massive trade, but who in the world cares about charcoal? It’s not like chopped trees generate as much public concern and interest as slaughtered elephants. But the impact of the removal of that number of trees must be having devastating consequences on the environment.

Doubtless Al-Shabaab earns some money from the illegal ivory trade – but let’s not send in the Marines yet. As I mentioned in the original blog, ivory trading is very likely much more under the control of criminal networks than terrorist groups. Hence the recent seizure of a significant pile of ivory stored in a local company warehouse in Mombasa.

If we are to realistically design a strategy to combat illegal wildlife trafficking, we need realistic information and not scare tactics. Implicating terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab might be good for donations, but distracts from what local businessmen in Mombasa (and politicians) are doing under our noses.

It should be pointed out that the Elephant Action League has recently started an information network called “Wildleaks”. People with information about illegal wildlife trafficking can contribute details anonymously. Let’s hope some clarity will emerge about the real extent of involvement of Al-Shabaab in the illegal ivory trade.

And meanwhile, let’s concentrate on the real kingpins.


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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:18