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Political support for the conservation of lions

LionAid has embarked on comprehensive programmes to ensure the future of lions in Africa. Some of the programmes might not seem like the mainstream and accepted “projects” immediately identifiable with conservation – we are not currently supporting field programmes for example. LionAid acknowledges the importance of such programmes if they can be proven to be effective, and meanwhile we also believe much can be done on the political front.

 

LionAid is encouraged by the recent effort to bring the issue of trophy hunting to the Secretary of the Interior by a number of organizations in the USA. LionAid originated the idea, and we are happy to see it spreading. What we are not happy about is that the Born Free Foundation is now assuming a level of ownership by belatedly coming onto the issue in the UK. No credit paid to the groundwork established by LionAid, just an attempt to gain some prominence on an issue that has proven to have traction.

  See the Born free website here

 

Meanwhile, four months ago LionAid achieved a Member’s Debate in the UK Parliament on the issue of lion conservation, presented by Andrew Turner MP to the Minister responsible. On the day, Minister Benyon replied positively, and in later correspondence assured he would seek a response from African range states conducting trophy hunting as to the sustainability of the practice. Failing range state confirmation, the Minister would then approach CITES to question the sustainability of trade in lion trophies.

 

LionAid is encouraged by the Minister’s positive response, and is additionally seeking to involve politicians within the EU, a major player lion trophy hunting imports. Through UK Members of European Parliament (MEP), we would hope to bring a similar debate to Brussels that Andrew Turner MP achieved in London. 

These are our intended actions and outcomes within the European Union:

1. Overview

 

LionAid is of the informed opinion that continued trophy hunting pressure on remaining African lion populations is highly detrimental to the conservation status of the species. This opinion is based on scientific reports concerning the impact of trophy hunting on lion populations in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In addition, CITES export figures indicate very high levels of export of a limited component of the population (adult and subadult males) from a species already in rapid decline. Such high and specific levels of offtake severely compromise reproduction of populations occurring in both protected and unprotected areas and are not sustainable.

 

At present, trophy hunting of lions also does not comply with many stipulations of Council Regulation (EC) 338/97 concerning the EC Wildlife Trade Regulation (WTR). Specifically, lion trophy hunting is NOT:

• Based on sound biological data collected from the target population(s);
• Demonstrably sustainable in terms of harvest levels;
• Monitored by professional biologists;
• Modified if necessary to maintain conservation aims;
• Producing significant and tangible conservation benefits for the species;
• Providing benefits to, or being in cooperation with, local people living with lions or suffering from the presence of lions.

2. Possibility of independent action within the EC Wildlife Trade Regulations

 

The WTR deals with the protection of wild fauna and flora by regulating the trade in such species within the EU. With a system of four Annexes, the Regulation lays down provisions for import, export, and re-export as well as internal trade in species. The EC generally follows CITES recommendations, but Member States can go beyond CITES in a number of respects. For example, import conditions for species listed in WTR Annexes A and B (roughly equivalent to CITES Appendices I and II) can be stricter than those of CITES. There is also a possibility under the WTR to upgrade a CITES Appendix II species (regulated trade) to WTR Annex A (no trade within the EU). Precedents to afford greater protection for certain species within the WTR have been established.

3. Procedure

 

The procedure to establish stricter guidelines within the WTR than exist for CITES is as follows, and could benefit from MEP participation:

• A Member State Scientific Authority (SA – the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in the UK) advises its Management Authority to cease issuing import permits, as it is not satisfied that trophy hunting satisfies established conditions for being non-detrimental. Authorities in other Member States are notified of this advice and suspend the issuance of import permits as well.
• The issue is then taken up by the EC Scientific Review Group (SRG) composed of SA representatives from all Member States. The SRG can form a Negative Opinion in which case the suspension of import permits stays in place. Alternatively, the SRG can form a Positive Opinion, in which case import permits can be reinstated.
• In the case of a Negative Opinion from the SRG, the Commission may consult Range States about introducing an import restriction. Range States can support the Negative Opinion, in which case a binding import restriction is published in an official journal of the Commission. If the restriction is not supported, the case is referred back to the SRG.
• The SRG can then confirm the Negative Opinion, in which case the import restriction is published, or reverse the negative opinion.


4. Advantages

 

Overall, the process towards establishing an import restriction for lion trophies into the EU is straightforward and there are many levels at which input is requested to facilitate an informed opinion. The most significant advantage, however, is that the process is scientifically guided and not as prone to the political lobbying characterizing CITES decisions. Among other advantages are the meeting schedules of the SRG (3-4 times per year instead of once every three years for CITES), the immediate and tangible benefits of removing a significant contributory factor to the decline of lion populations, and also, the important message that could be sent worldwide.

 

In terms of the latter, if the EC WTR imposes a restriction on the importation of lion trophies, it would send a powerful message of concern to other nations with wildlife trade regulations - in terms of lion trophies the most significant of which is the United States. The US regulatory agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), could then voluntarily follow EU trade restrictions, or at least request information as to the basis of the restriction for US consideration.

 

Thus, while CITES establishes international guidelines it is important to acknowledge the importance of national wildlife trade regulatory agencies in terms of their ability to independently assess the impact of trade on the conservation status of various trophy-hunted species.

5. Progress

 

Progress has been achieved at the international level by a LionAid campaign to involve the UK Government in political action. To date, the Minister has announced to us the following courses of action he will take:

• Seek, in the first instance, the reaction of Tanzania to concerns raised in the literature and media about unsustainable levels of lion trophy hunting in that country;
• Without compelling assurance from Tanzania, seek the support of the EU to raise the issue at the next CITES Animals Committee meeting with the view to establish a review of Significant Trade;
• Involve the UK SA to engage a review of the status of lions in all range states that allow trophy hunting;
• In the absence of reassurances from the range states and/or lack of corrective action on their part, establish trade restrictions.


6. Next steps

 

LionAid is therefore working on several levels to encourage a review of current trade in lion trophies. This includes the designated UK SA, UK Parliament, the EC WTR, and ultimately CITES.

If you live within the EU, please bring this issue to the attention of your local and national representatives to match the commitment shown by the MPs in the UK. LionAid can guide you in this approach. Your voice can be heard and added to this important means of protecting the remaining populations of lions.

 

Image: European Parliament, Brussels http://www.google.co.za/imgres?imgurl=http://www.tropicalisland.de/BRU%2520Brussels%2520European%    

Posted by Pieter Kat at 22:53

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