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Sub specie aeternitatis

Sunday 28th August 2011

Sub specie aeternitatis


There has been a diversity of opinion on the interpretation of that Latin phrase such as “under the eye of eternity”, “from the perspective of the eternal”, etc. I would like to introduce the phrase to conservation with the meaning “from the perspective of the future”.

Viktor Frankl, in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, said “It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking into the future – sub specie aeternitatis”. I would like to combine that with a quote from a speech by Douglas Adams given at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he said “The [time] we are best able to understand and appreciate the richness of life around us is also the time we are destroying life at the greatest rate".

From the perspective of the future, we are not doing well in terms of biodiversity conservation are we? We have greater and greater understanding of the consequences of what past destructive environmental practices entail, and while there are some bright spots, the abuse of our natural resources largely continues unabated.

We are also gaining a better and better understanding of the amazing richness of the biological diversity with which we “share” the planet – new species (and not only plants and insects, or the amazing diversity of life in the deep oceans, but some pretty big terrestrial mammals as well!) are described on a daily basis.

Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine wrote a book some time ago called “Last Chance to See”. Turned later into a BBC Series, the book contains an implicit warning – for many species, unless we implement good conservation strategies, our generation will have the last chance to see them.

And from the perspective of the future, that means we are not doing so well. Despite all the information we have, patiently gathered over the years and that allows us some degree of prediction as to consequences of our actions, we doggedly and even inexplicably continue on set commercial courses destined for tragedy.

Liken it to a supertanker set on full speed ahead. Even when the crew puts it into full astern, the momentum and weight of the ship continues to carry it forward for very many miles. Just like our bad decisions in the past – it is not always easy to reverse to established momentum before the shipwreck. But in some cases the evidence is just so overwhelming that a reverse gear should be applied immediately.

You knew I would come to lions eventually, so here we are…

In many of my past blogs on this site I have patiently and with a great amount of data explained why lions are on the rocks. With some bright spots, current conservation measures will continue to be a shipwreck as long as the additive mortality from trophy hunting is allowed, tolerated, and even encouraged by wildlife authorities in Africa, importing countries, and complacent attitudes. From the perspective of the future we continued to do little, and we will be judged by it.

As a quick overview, let’s just state a few facts as to why there is no such thing as sustainable lion hunting. All the relevant information to back up these statements is available in past blogs on this site.

Biology and Genetics

1. Lions in the wild don’t reproduce that well. About 60% of cubs die before they reach 2 yrs.


2. Incoming males kill cubs within the prides they have taken over. There are exceptions, but overall, a change in pride males is a time when females lose their cubs sired by previous males. A rapid turnover of adult males predicts and has been shown to involve little or no survivorship of cubs in a pride.


3. As only about 10-15% of a lion population consists of adult pride males, one can assume a mortality rate of about 85% for male cubs that finally attain pride male status. Yet pride males are prime targets for trophy hunters.


4. There are substantial genetic differences among lion populations. The biggest divisions so far discovered are between western African lions and other lions in Africa. Western African lions turn out to be more related to lions in India. Such results need to be integrated immediately into conservation and management plans. The IUCN needs to immediately list western African lions as regionally endangered, and CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation need to impose severe import restrictions. Western African lions are still sport hunted in range states like Burkina Faso and Cameroon.

Effects of trophy hunting


1. Andrew Loveridge documented a great increase in male turnover, infanticide, and a downward spiral of reproduction in his studies in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. A temporary moratorium on hunting showed some recovery in his study populations and a more stable pride structure resulted. Trophy hunting in the area has since been restored.


2. Craig Packer documented that the greatest contributory factor to trophy hunters in Tanzania not being able to come up with a trophy was overhunting in the past. Tanzania continues to set very high quota levels for the hunting areas, but despite an increasing number of sport hunters over the years, lion numbers exported are dropping fast.

Conclusion – there just aren’t any adult males left. Undeterred, the hunters are shooting younger and younger males, and it remains to be seen if recently adopted minimum age standards for trophies will be enforced. Meanwhile, the Tanzanian director of wildlife and other senior officials have been suspended over illegal live exports. Trophy hunters work nowhere better than in corrupt countries.

No evidence of hunting supporting communities or contributing to the nation's GDP


1. Rural poverty increases under trophy hunting schemes. All profits flow to the hunting operators and their cronies in government.


2. The large areas of land set aside for trophy hunting do not contribute, under current practice, to a meaningful contribution to GDP.


3. Despite many years of advice, even from scientific papers that advocate the conservation value of trophy hunting, nothing has changed for the better. The momentum to continue on a destructive course has not abated.

Lion numbers

1. Many vested interest organizations have set out with very dubious methods to “prove” lions are doing very well, and that there is no cause for concern. Keep hunting them is the message, there are plenty of them.


2. The extent to which such methods should be considered null and void was recently presented in a scientific paper by Henshel et al. Of 12 “lion conservation units” where lions were supposed to occur, they only found evidence of occurrence in 2. They estimated about 20 in one area and maybe 50 in another. Ground surveys are invaluable and need to be conducted despite expense and time to assess the greatly hopeful exaggerations by those who seek to show that lions are not in decline at all!

Lion Periodic Review

1. The CITES Animals Commission recently accepted a proposal by Mexico and the USA to have African lions undergo a periodic review. LionAid had pushed for a review of significant trade, but a periodic review is acceptable, as it is a needed assessment of the current status of lions in African range states.


2. CITES accepted Kenya and Namibia to head and coordinate the review, which will determine whether lions should be kept on Appendix II of CITES, or uplisted to Appendix I at the upcoming meeting of CITES in 2013.


3. However, a periodic review will rely heavily on assessments made by range states as to the status of their populations. Thus, we will be urging Kenya, the UK, and the EU to take a highly cautious approach to the numbers brought forward by vested interest groups like Conservation Force and their IGF allies in France. They in turn will be pushing hard to have these same numbers, based on extremely questionable “survey” methods, to be accepted.


4. At the same time LionAid will push hard to have genetic data and biological data be included in the periodic review. And a dismissal of the notion that lion sport hunting brings wonderful benefits to communities and national economies, as the trophy hunting organizations would like the gullible to believe.

The information on lion biology, consequences of trophy hunting on populations, the truth about hopeful population numbers, and the myth that continued hunting will bring great benefits to rural communities all is available. Sub specie aeternitatis -   from the perspective of the future – CITES has thrown lion conservation a bone. The momentum of the hunting lobby can be slowed and indeed reversed. But as long as they have all the finances, we are constrained. Not by will and great influence politically - that has been established. But by the ability to carry the better informed message of LionAid to the corridors of power. 

See that “donate” button on this website? Click on it. Otherwise for lions it will really be a last chance to see.  The hunters say – never apologize. Conservation-minded people should say – never compromise, and look to ensure what we do now will resonate well in the future.

Picture Credit: Chris Harvey

Posted by Pieter Kat at 15:12

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