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.

Spare a thought for hippos

Friday 26th September 2014


Best lie low


Hippos have decreased hugely in Africa – they are a popular bushmeat item and cause much conflict with humans as they destroy crops. Consequently, it is difficult to find many hippos in large stretches of African rivers and lakes where they used to occur in numbers. You would be very hard pressed to find a hippo on the three largest lakes in Africa – Victoria, Tanganyika, and Nyassa (Malawi). I did biodiversity research on all those lakes in the 1990s and travelled huge expanses of the lake by boat but hardly saw a hippo.

Hippos are also unfortunate that their teeth are increasingly used in the legal and illegal ivory trade (ivory is not just about elephants!).

And the trade in hippo ivory is perfectly legal, although there is also a significant illegal trade of poached animals. How much legal hippo ivory enters the market? Over the ten years 2003-2012 exports from African countries indicate that 93,445 kg of hippo ivory and 35,763 teeth (mostly the large canines of which hippos have four) were exported. As a conservative estimate, I would say this represents about 27,000 hippos. These hippos came largely from the usual suspects like Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Tanzania – but significant numbers were also exported from Malawi, Uganda and Mozambique. By far most of this ivory ends up in Hong Kong.

There is also a major skin trade involving hippos. From 2003 to 2012, African nations like Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, among others, exported 13,996 skins, 46,305 square feet of skins, and 7,367 square meters of skins. Are all those skins from the hippos killed for their ivory?

In addition, hippos also seem a popular trophy for trophy hunters. In the 20 years 1993-2012, a total of 11,444 hunting trophies were exported, mostly from Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of that total, 30% came from Tanzania, a seemingly popular destination for hippo trophy hunters.

Hippos are not particularly difficult to hunt – with a powerful rifle and an accurate telescopic sight, all you need to do is sit by water and wait for them to emerge. The only difficulty posed is that if you only wound a hippo they will run back into the water and die there. Difficult to then recover your trophy, and perhaps necessitating shooting another one.

How many hippos remain in Africa? Good question as nobody really knows. Anyone ever heard of a hippo survey? One that was conducted in the DRC in 2003 showed that the Virunga population had been decimated from 29,000 thirty years ago to 1,300. One wonders, over ten years on, how many of those remain.

Current estimates vary, but a conservative estimate would indicate that not more than 70-90,000 hippos remain on the entire continent. The IUCN classifies hippos as valuable and CITES lists them on Appendix II – without much knowledge of their current populations and rates of decline. In addition, western African hippos deserve their own taxonomic status.

The high level of hippo ivory involved in trade, trophy hunting offtake, habitat loss, human conflict and bushmeat offtake all add up to a sad future for hippos – and I would argue in favour of adding Hippopotamus amphibius to be added to our list of gravely threatened animals.

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


Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:49

A possible remedy to bushmeat poaching

Wednesday 17th September 2014

bushmeat snares
 Lots of snares but no poachers caught


All over Africa, poachers are setting wire snares to catch wildlife. Some do it on a small scale to feed their families, others do it on a commercial scale to sell bushmeat on local markets by the hundreds of kilos. The so called “by-catch” or collateral damage of these snares is that very many predators like lions get caught and die needless deaths.

The response has usually been to employ anti-poaching teams from wildlife departments or NGOs to remove snares.

In my opinion, this has for many years been possibly a wrong response. While it might benefit those to show piles of collected snares (see picture above) as a means of indicating that they are combating poaching, the reality is that in short order the poachers put out new snares.

It might seem like a strange suggestion, but I would advocate leaving the snares in place. Obviously the snares should be rendered ineffective so they can no longer catch animals, but by leaving the snares in place you will be able to snare the poachers.

The weak link in using snares is that the poachers need to visit them regularly to determine what they have caught. Such checks must occur regularly, as an animal left in a snare for too long can be eaten by a predator – or the meat will rot.

So snares can be used to catch poachers as well. Either by setting ambushes for those coming to check their snares, or photographing them with hidden trail cameras as they inspect the snares.

So instead of collecting piles of snares, you could collect piles of photographs of the poachers. The cameras these days are quite sophisticated and are activated by motion sensors. They can take pictures by day and night without the subject knowing they have been snapped.

The bushmeat trade is worth far more than the illegal ivory trade these days, and is destroying wildlife at a great rate. Also, it appears that a significant number of snares are placed inside protected areas, as poachers can operate freely there.

Time to stop collecting snares as evidence of doing something against poaching activities. Deactivate the snares and collect the poachers.


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



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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:22

Lion trophy 


A comprehensive report was published by the Controller and Auditor General of the United Republic of Tanzania in December, 2013. 

The Auditor General identified these shortcomings:

  1. Tourist hunting generated more than 91 billion Tanzania Shillings in three years between 2009 and 2012 (about $18 million annually to Government coffers). Despite this contribution realized from the wildlife sector, a number of problems make wildlife a concern, especially to the socio-economic status of the communities in bordering wildlife protected areas. These problems include: conflicts with other land uses, poaching, habitat loss, pollution, global warming and introduction of exotic species;
  2. Patrols are not regularly conducted during the rainy season, despite consistent poaching events. Surveillance coverage was 37% and 47% in 2010/11 and 2011/12 respectively. This is far below the set target of 60% coverage;
  3. Annual assessment of hunting companies was based on 40% utilization of quota and omitted other performance measures. There were incidences of non compliance with the trophy criteria set. There were no actions taken to non compliance or substandard trophies. 49% of the 108 hunting permit forms were not filled at all to indicate the habitat or ecology where the animals were hunted. A total of 366 wild animals in 2009 and 2011 were killed without quota allocation;
  4. None of the hunting companies submitted annual contribution of 5000 USD during the interim period (this is a fee charged for development of communities living with wildlife).
  5. Not all stakeholders are fully involved in law enforcement [anti-poaching, preventing illegal wildlife trafficking]. Hunting activities are not monitored.

The report ends with a number of recommendations.

Overall, this is indicates a very poor performance of the Tanzania hunting sector in terms of conservation of wildlife. It should be noted that the Tanzanian hunting sector has come under criticism for at least ten years now (e.g Baldus.R. D and Cauldwell A. E (2004), Tourist hunting and its Rolein Development of Wildlife Management Areas in Tanzania), and that this is the latest in a number of negative performance reports.

It is high time that reform is taken seriously and conservation of wildlife in Tanzania is accepted to take precedence over all forms of utilization.


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Tags: Tanzania,

Categories: Lion Trophy Hunting

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:19

How easy it is to hunt a lion....

Saturday 13th September 2014

How easy it is to hunt a lion 

 Baited and in the bag


This is taken from a hunt report involving Neil Duckworth, a professional hunter with Mokore Safaris in Zimbabwe and the woman hunter pictured above:

“We were able to take [a] nice buffalo cow on the first morning. By the afternoon hours she was hanging in two locations for lion bait after a lot of time and effort was put into selecting the perfect bait / blind sites.

On day 2 we spent most of the day trying for a zebra to add to our lion baits and building blinds at the existing bait sites from the day before. With all set all we needed was for a lion to show.

On day 3 … we saw a big lion track crossing the Sengwa river going away from the bait site. We kept our fingers crossed and on arrival at the bait we could see a big male with 10" mane hair had fed. Fortunately the blind was set up already so we left with the plan of being in the blind late afternoon. 5 pm saw us back in the blind, at first glance all looked quite [sic], Jordan the camera man was setting up the camera and on zooming in on the bait noticed that the lion was there but sleeping in the grass behind. Daylight was fading fast and we prayed he would get up. With maybe 10 minutes of shooting light he finally got up,, walked behind the bait roaring going to the left. Due to the low light through the scope I was struggling to pick him up under the shade of the bait tree. Fortunately he moved around to the right side of the tree and stood perfectly broadside under the bait. With a solid rest and a squeeze on the trigger of my 375 Dakota the lion jumped into the air growling ,bit the bait and then came growling straight towards the blind, stopping 50 yards directly to our left. After 5 minutes of growling it went quiet [sic]. We inched out to the truck, all climbed in and went to the bait. From the bait we could see a large blood trail. After a very nerve wracking [sic] follow up in the dark and thick cover we found him stone dead in a thick bush. This was a massive relief that he was dead and no one got hurt. It was a very fine trophy with an exceptional mane. I was over the moon. So by the end of day three I had my main trophy down. It was a dream come true to take this beautiful maned lion in the wild!!”

And so it goes. Lions are baited everywhere wild lions are hunted – and very often shot from blinds.

The Tanzania Wildlife Act specifically forbids baiting unless with an individual permit from the Director of Wildlife. That same act also prohibits shooting female animals. The Tanzania hunting operators say, however, that baiting for lions has been given a blanket permit. The legality of this is questionable, but nobody has chosen to challenge this in Tanzania. The Wildlife Act also specifically prohibits hunting from blinds.

Are there such rules in Zimbabwe?

The Zimbabwe Wildlife Act has lots of rules and regulations, but does not include any regulations about how animals are allowed to be hunted.

So why all this baiting?

In short, it brings the lion to the hunter. All hunting organizations supposedly espouse the principle of “fair chase” for free-ranging wildlife. Fair chase means that the prey has the ability to elude the hunter, and challenges the skills of the hunter.

But that is just a romantic notion these days it would seem. Hunters spend considerable sums of money to “collect” their trophies, and the hunting operators compete with each other for clients. Those operators who deliver the most trophies to their clients do best in this competition, and baiting is now part of the formula. Is it legal? That is arguable. Is it ethical? That is even more arguable. Is it hunting? That is not arguable – the answer is a clear NO.

But “recreational hunters” are not really hunters are they? They want their trophy and are willing to take whatever shortcuts are offered.

And yet they still say it aids conservation? As they cannot help themselves in publishing these hunting reports, we have long known how trophy hunts are conducted. And we can make up our own minds.


Picture credit: http://bit.ly/1pe3uYV 



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.

2 Comments | Posted by Chris Macsween at 16:58

Slaughter – part 2….

Wednesday 10th September 2014

I recently posted this on the LionAid Facebook site -

“Have a look at these pictures of male lions being shot as trophies in Cameroon. They are all subadults, ranging in age from about 2-3 yrs.

There are only about 100-200 lions remaining in Cameroon, and the trophy hunters are shooting animals without any regard to conservation.

78% of all lions hunted in Cameroon are shot by European hunters, most from France.”

Slaughter part 2 

Now have a look at this lion shot in Burkina Faso – it is no more than 1.5 years old, so little more than a cub.

Slaughter part 3 

The lion is so young it even has spots – and no mane whatsoever. Clearly, hunters are taking younger and younger lions as the populations of lion in Benin, Burkina Faso and Cameroon are in freefall decline. The image comes from the most recent edition of French magazine called Voyages de Chasse (Hunting Travel) and was described as a “magnificent lion”….

We have provided these images to the EU, and we trust action will soon be taken to prevent any further imports of lion trophies from western Africa. There cannot be any justification for shooting such young animals….

Picture credits – various Cameroon hunting operator sites and www.voyages-de-chasse.com


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2 Comments | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:58

A tale of two conspirators?

Wednesday 10th September 2014

A tale of two consirators

Two “free range” lions shot at Tam Safaris courtesy of Seaview?


We by now all know the connections between lion breeding facilities and canned hunting operations. However, the breeding facilities often disguise themselves as lion conservation entities. In fact, they attract many paying volunteers and tourists to pet and interact with lion cubs.

They say that these lion cubs are all “orphans” to be raised to “somehow” be returned to the wild in the future. Yes, they are orphans as they are taken away from their mothers at a few days old to be raised by “volunteers” and petted by tourists. But their future is not in the wild, it is to eventually be hunted.

All along the value chain, these cubs in captive breeding facilities are exploited. By paying volunteers, by petting tourists, supplied to wedding ceremonies and schools, supplied to “walking experiences” – there is no limit to inventiveness by the breeders. And at the end of the day the lions end up as hunting trophies, skins, and bones for the Asian “traditional” medicine trade.

It is said that you can use any part of a pig except the squeak. The same applies to captive bred lions.

Captive breeders have always claimed innocence. But now a report by The Herald, a local newspaper in the Port Elizabeth area of South Africa has shot down such claims.

A parallel report by associated news organization Times Live said this:

“Lions and tigers from Port Elizabeth's Seaview Predator Park are being sold to game farms known for hunting and the exporting of animal bones.

Although the park has refused to comment, Eastern Cape department of economic development, environmental affairs and tourism MEC Sakhumzi Somyo has confirmed that:

The park has sent 22 lions to Cradock hunting reserve Tam Safaris since 2008; and
Two tigers have been sent from the park to the country's leading bone exporter, Letsatsi la Africa, in the Free State since 2008. Nine lions were sent last year.
Earlier this year, the Weekend Post revealed television show hosts, major league sports stars, wealthy entrepreneurs and a former US Congressman were among those who had hunted at the family-run Tam Safaris.

Departmental permits indicate there have been 86 lion hunts at the reserve over the past six years.

Tam Safaris owner Irvin Tam confirmed it had bought lions from Seaview Predator Park, owned by Janice and Rusty Gibbs.

"I have an agreement with them but can assure you that none of these lions from Seaview are used for hunting.

''They are specifically used to breed and bring new blood into our breeding projects," he said.

"Those lions are then either sold or used for hunting.

"I must stress again that all our hunts are legal and completely by the book."

Tam Safaris exported 32 lion carcasses to Vietnam in 2011, 738kg of lion bones and teeth in 2012 and 459kg of lion bones, claws and teeth last year.”


Seaview, in their public messages say this:

“As the name implies, the Seaview Game and Lion Park’s main attraction is the lions. At present, the lion population is approximately 55, of which nearly 25 are sub-adults and cubs.

All the lion cubs born at the Park are hand-reared and for a small fee may be handled by the public. When lions are hand-reared and become familiarized and imprinted with humans, THEY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE HUNTED. [capitals mine]
Our healthy, adorable cubs continue to receive many accolades. They are inoculated against all known feline diseases and rabies, and are free of Feline AIDS and TB. All the cubs are micro-chipped.” 

Tam Safaris says this:

“Tam Safaris have been hunting free ranging Lion for over seven years. There are three dedicated Lion reserves, comprising over 25,000 acres, devoted to free range Lion. These exclusive hunts have been very well received by hunting communities and are especially popular with clients who do not want to hunt “canned” Lion.”


“Tam Safaris is the first accredited private game reserve in South Africa for free roaming Lion Hunting; based on the National Draft Policy, Norms and Standards for large predators. The unprecedented success of this hunting opportunity relates directly to five years of hard work and well-developed infrastructure and dedicated game management programs. This has resulted in the accreditation of three related hunting areas for the fair chase hunting of the magnificent African Lion.”

The “gallery” of canned lions is available on the Tam Safaris website.

So – Seaview does not sell lions to hunting organizations and Tam Safaris does not hunt canned lions?

Is this a convenient story? Is the truth very different? Does it show that Seaview has been manipulating volunteers and tourists and Tam Safaris has been manipulating “hunters” into believing they hunt “free-roaming lions”? And then does it participate in the lion bone trade as well?

It seems, in short, a clear expose of how the canned lion hunting industry works. And, if correct, how sordid the whole business really is. Well done The Herald and various people in the Port Elizabeth area working together to bring all this to our attention.

Picture credit: www.tamsafaris.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, DONATE to support our work to conserve the remaining fragile lion populations. Thank you. 

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 19:57

Spare a thought for caracals

Monday 8th September 2014


A trophy and at the same time saving small livestock?


First of all what is a caracal? A few facts:

  • It is the fourth-largest cat in Africa after lions, leopards and cheetahs.
  • It is variously classified in the genus Felis or its unique genus Caracal.
  • It has a wide geographic range, currently including Africa, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is only common in southern Africa. 
  • It is classified as a “problem” animal in South Africa and Namibia because it can prey on small livestock.
  • Caracals appear to have held some religious significance for the ancient Egyptians. They were found in wall paintings, their bodies embalmed, and sculptures of caracals and other cats guarded tombs.

There no reliable estimates of caracal populations, and their population trend is “unknown” according to the IUCN. CITES lists African caracals on Appendix II and Asian caracals on Appendix I.

As caracals are “capable” of taking small domestic livestock, they are often subject to persecution. Over the years 1931-1952 an average of 2,219 caracals EACH YEAR were killed in control operations in the Karoo, South Africa. Similarly, Namibian farmers responding to a government questionnaire reported killing up to 2,800 caracals in 1981.

These days, CITES export records show that from 2003-2012, South Africa exported 871 skins, 144 “bodies”, 1152 skulls and 4824 hunting trophies. Namibia came a distant second with 239 skins, 10 bodies, 58 skulls and 652 trophies.

By far the greatest percentage of the caracal hunting trophies went to the USA of course.

South Africa exported 246 live caracals, most to dubious destinations like the Arab Emirates, China and Myanmar (Burma). South Africa also exported 45 live caracals to the Czech Republic, something worthy of investigation.

Strangely, there are hardly any organizations with direct concerns for caracals. It would seem they are badly needed, but as Africa’s “fourth cat”, and the world public not really aware of this species, it would seem there are few champions of one of the world’s most beautiful cats.


Picture credit: africanskyhunting.co.za


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Tags: Caracals

Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 18:30

Where have all the lions in Zambia gone?

Saturday 6th September 2014

David Scholey 

One less lion in Zambia – 230 or so left?


Recently, the Zambian Carnivore Programme published their 2013 Annual Report .

Included in their information was their estimate of lion populations in three areas of Zambia – Luangwa, Kafue and Liuwa Plains. Respectively, they estimated 141, 56 and perhaps 5 lions. There was no estimate for lion numbers in the Lower Zambezi area, but I’ll come back to that.

There have been a diversity of lion estimates in Zambia over the years. In 2006, the IUCN arranged a meeting in Johannesburg for southern and eastern African lion range states. Delegates at that meeting mentioned estimates of 750 lions in the Luangwa area, 500 lions in Kafue, and <50 lions in Liuwa. In the lower Zambezi area they estimated about 250-500 lions.

One of the reasons for the IUCN meeting was to encourage lion range states to formulate conservation management plans for their lion populations.

Zambia put together a report in 2009, but this has yet to be signed off by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).

In June 2013 we were invited to make a presentation to the ZAWA Board by former Minister of Tourism and Arts Sylvia Masebo. We asked the Board to justify their lion estimates, which to date they have not. This information is now even less likely to be forthcoming as that Board has since been fired.

ZAWA estimated 2123 lions in Luangwa, 1334 lions in Kafue, and 238 lions in the Lower Zambezi. Tourism operators in the Lower Zambezi told us in 2013 that there were only 35 lions known to them in that area at the time.

Sylvia Masebo placed a moratorium on trophy hunting in Zambia in January 2013, citing irregularities in the tenders for hunting concessions and concerns about remaining wildlife numbers. Her successor, Jean Kapata, recently reinstated some trophy hunting in Zambia, but kept lions off the menu until proper population surveys could be undertaken.

LionAid would suggest that Minister Kapata takes a hard look at the figures published by the ZCP.

Overall, these numbers suggest that Luangwa and Kafue contain perhaps 197 lions, and our information suggests that the Lower Zambezi contains perhaps 35 lions. The total for those three main lion conservation areas would therefore add up to 230 or so lions in Zambia.

This is a far cry from ZAWA’s 2009 estimate of almost 3700 lions in those same three areas. And also a far cry from the IUCN number of 1750 lions.

So where have all the lions gone? Zambian wildlife areas are heavily poached for bushmeat and lions are killed by trophy hunters – and farmers and ZAWA as “problem animals”.

Trophy hunting of a declining population of lions should not be given an inch of consideration by ZAWA and Minister Kapata in the future. Zambians will be greatly distressed that there are perhaps only 230 lions remaining in their country. They should not be sold to foreign trophy hunters again regardless of pressure from parties with vested interests.

Picture credit:  http://thetim.es/1nCn0P6 


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 16:41

Zambia elephants 

Still in my sights



Recently, the Minister of Tourism and Arts, Jean Kapata, reinstated (some) trophy hunting in Zambia. Her predecessor, Sylvia Masebo, placed a moratorium on trophy hunting in January 2013, citing irregularities in allocations of hunting concessions and worries over a sharp decline in Zambia’s wildlife.

When LionAid was given the opportunity to address the Board of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) in June 2013 at the invitation of former Minister Masebo, we were told in no uncertain terms by the Chairman that trophy hunting would return. We submitted a written report detailing our concerns about the lack of proper information about lion populations and have yet to receive the promised reply. This is unlikely to be forthcoming as Minister Kapata fired that ZAWA Board when she was instated in March 2014, and there seems little progress to identify a new Board.

Kapata mentioned that ZAWA was broke and dependent on income from hunting concession leases and trophy fees. She still excluded leopards and lions form the hunting menu, and recently this statement was issued to also exclude elephants:

“ZAWA communications and public relations officer Readith Muliyunda said in a statement yesterday that that even before the ban was effected, Zambia was never been [sic] a pro-elephant hunting nation.
“Contrary to blatant misinformation reports on social media and some sectors of the media that the hunting ban on elephants has been lifted, ZAWA would like to inform members of the public and the international community that this is not the case,” she said.
Ms Muliyunda said even before the ban, hunting of elephants in Zambia had been at the lowest, restricted to two out of the 36 Game Management Areas (GMA’s) namely, Rufunsa and Lupande.”

Looking at CITES trade database records from 2008-2012, it would appear that 128 elephants were hunted in Zambia over those five years. That means that an average of 26 elephants were shot from only two GMAs per year. Is that a low level of elephant hunting?

Regardless, it is clear that Zambia needs to carefully examine how it derives income from wildlife resources. If ZAWA is to attain financial stability, it would appear that a much greater effort should be made by government to promote photographic tourism to Zambia. Why not? Zambia is an incredibly beautiful country with a well-developed hospitality industry.

Unfortunately, previous international donors like the Norwegian Aid organization have closed down their programmes in Zambia citing massive corruption in ZAWA. Minister Kapata will need a strategic mission to restore international donor confidence.

She is not helped by a significant level of political turmoil in the country. Minister Masebo, as mentioned, was sacked. More recently the Minister of Justice and Chief Executive of the ruling Patriotic Front party, Wynter Kabimba, was sacked. President Sata appears to be terminally ill and there is much confusion about his capacity to fulfil his duties. It is rumoured that the Vice President, Guy Scott, is also in trouble.

Given this scenario of political infighting, wildlife conservation will doubtless remain on the back burner for a while.

Meanwhile, an impeccable source tells me that trophy hunting in Zambia will not be financially viable to the hunting operators unless lions, leopards and elephants are restored into the mix. Those are the “big draws” for foreign hunters, and therefore the pressure from the trophy hunting community will be persistent.

So where to go from here? I’ll write another blog on the dire straits of Zambia’s lion population. As for elephants, there are no good estimates for Zambia. I’m not even sure that Zambia signed up to the pan-African elephant counts funded to an organization called Elephants Without Borders by the Paul Allen Foundation to the tune of $10 million.

LionAid would urge Zambia to get her wildlife house in order, and diversify ZAWA’s income away from the heavy reliance on trophy hunting. There are good people in Zambia fighting for responsible conservation programmes. They have been lying low for a while with the political turmoil, but now would seem the time to speak out again.


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



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 14:03

western African lions 

I’m more Indian than African – pay attention!


Recent surveys have estimated that only 400-600 or so of these genetically unique lions remain. Why are they unique? Well, because they are more closely related to lions in India than lions in the rest of Africa. That has been proven by a number of genetic analyses by independent researchers.

I have written a number of blogs on the subject, and hopefully many have now become much more informed about these unique lions.

But perhaps such information has not yet reached CITES or IUCN, as these organizations still insist that an African lion is just an African lion wherever it occurs. Not good for intelligent conservation, but those organizations have not shown stellar qualities in this area for the past decades, and do not like to consider genetic evidence.

Despite their genetic uniqueness (they should be a lion subspecies just like the Asiatic lions are a subspecies) and their very small numbers (it is estimated that the surviving western African lions only occupy 1% of their former geographic range), these lions are still trophy hunted….

Surprised? Well, there’s more to the story than that.

Let’s look at some numbers first, and begin with the IUCN estimated numbers of lions in western Africa derived from a conference in 2005. The IUCN estimated that there were 500-1,000 lions in the Niokolo Guinee ecosystem. A recent survey showed that there were probably not more than 16. The IUCN estimated there were 100-500 lions in the W-Arly-Pendjari area spanning Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. Recent surveys estimate about 350. The IUCN estimated about 100 lions between two reserves in Nigeria. Recent surveys estimate 32. The IUCN said there were between 200- 360 lions between two reserves in Cameroon. Recent surveys estimate between 100-200.

In short, the IUCN estimated there were about 1,960 lions in the areas mentioned while recent actual surveys show a maximum of about 600 and a minimum of 370.

So there is a clear case to immediately declare western African lions highly endangered with this new evidence. But … as I mentioned Benin, Burkina Faso and Cameroon still allow lions to be trophy hunted.

According to the CITES export numbers, Benin’s records show that in the five years 2008-2012 a total of 11 adult male lion trophies were exported. Over the same period, Burkina Faso exported 40 trophies, and Cameroon exported 18 trophy lions.

However, from those same CITES records, it appears that Cameroon basically stopped exporting lion trophies after 2009, and Burkina Faso shows no lion trophy exports after 2010. Read that carefully.

How wonderful, you might say, as this indicates that lion trophy hunting in those countries was shut down in recognition of the few lions that still occur.

However, an impeccable source tells me a very different story. I have known him for some years now, and the information he provides has always been factual. He says that the actual export of lion trophies from Burkina Faso has held relatively steady at 10-13 lions per year, every year. In Cameroon, he says 6-9 lions have been shot every year.

So why the discrepancy? It would appear that both Burkina Faso and Cameroon have been exporting lion trophies without reporting them to the CITES database. This is entirely possible, as CITES allows each lion range state to issue permits. Reporting those export permits to CITES seems optional, and we cannot just use Cameroon and Burkina Faso as examples. There are huge discrepancies for rhino hunting trophies from South Africa also.

The EU has just recently passed an opinion on allowing future lion trophy imports from Benin. I cannot tell you what that opinion is until it becomes public. The EU will consider the Burkina Faso situation later this month. But the EU has no announced schedule to consider Cameroonian lions, a bit of an oversight on their part. All of this is highly important to lion conservation in those three countries as most of the trophies end up in EU countries, predominantly France.

And CITES should also clean up its act. The very fact that Burkina Faso and Cameroon seem to be playing fast and loose with CITES reporting regulations while being CITES member states should seriously raise eyebrows at the CITES Secretariat. And I can promise that same Secretariat that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

How to clean up this mess? It seems that the EU is also far along the path of deciding that all lion trophies need to be issued with not only an export permit by the country of origin but also an import permit by the country of destination. Irregularities between the two numbers can then be rapidly established. Until that happens, CITES permits are not worth the paper they are printed on and such permits are susceptible to be used to facilitate both unsustainable and illegal trade.

Picture: Benin lion by Philipp Henschel


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Add a comment | Posted by Chris Macsween at 17:23