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

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

  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