We can look back at 2015 as a reasonably good year for lions. This was achieved by very many concerned individuals and groups working together to make a difference for this strangely much-neglected species. Let’s have a review of lion problems and successes in 2015 - and these are not necessarily in chronological order:
1. In early 2015, the EU listed lions as a species that now needed permits to be imported. Not many realized the importance of this decision – basically, it placed all EU member states in the driving seat as to whether they would collectively allow further imports rather than just accepting an export permit from the African lion range states. Such imports would now only be allowed if the EU was convinced that lions were “harvested” sustainably.
2. Australia declared a complete cessation of all lion hunting imports. That sent the cat among the pigeons, and a political challenge was mounted in the Australian Parliament. It was soundly defeated, and to date Australia continues to take a very tough stand to ban the future of any further lion products. LionAid met with Australian Minister Greg Hunt at his request when he visited London to plan ways forward. We should all salute Australia for taking this stand.
3. Within the EU, France suspended all lion trophy hunting imports. Thanks to the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, French Environment Minister Segolene Royal threw down a gauntlet to declare that one of the major lion trophy hunting importing nations in the EU would now cease, and said that she would work with other EU nations to urge them to join in France’s good initiatives.
4. LionAid achieved a second adjournment debate in UK Parliament about lion conservation needs thanks to Rt. Hon. David Jones. Five years had passed since the original adjournment debate on lions was delivered in 2010 by Hon. Andrew Turner, and we are convinced that such debates will significantly contribute to lion conservation. After the debate, LionAid met privately with Rt. Hon. Rory Stewart, Undersecretary of State for Environment, who promised many changes forward for UK participation in African lion conservation.
5. One of these changes came almost immediately with Rory Stewart promising LionAid that he would ban lion trophy imports from Zambia and Mozambique into the UK.
6. After 56 months since the original application, the USFWS came up trumps in terms of listing African lions under several regulations of the US Endangered Species Act. We all had to jump through many hoops to provide scientific information to achieve this listing, and at the end of the day it will provide better protection. Basically, the USFWS ruling says that further lion trophy hunting needs to “prove” that it benefits the conservation of the species, and meanwhile, as of January 22 or so, all lion trophy hunting imports to the USA will be suspended. Good news as the USA is responsible for importing over 60% of all lion trophies….
7. Cecil the lion was killed out of an abundance of selfishness by a Minnesota dentist. One of the most magnificent lions on earth was shot with a bow and arrow allegedly at night with the aid of spotlights, and allegedly suffered for another 40 hours before he could then be “dispatched” by gunshots. Cecil became an international beacon that shone a bright light on the sordid practice of lion trophy hunting. It was well overdue, and Cecil exposed the rot that had been long been tolerated as “sustainable” conservation by many. Not long after Cecil was shot in Zimbabwe, another hunter killed an elephant with huge tusks in the same country. Can we accept that trophy hunters take the biggest and the best to “conserve” the rest? Trophy hunting was finally exposed as a nonsense. Trophy hunting does nothing for conservation, and the world is belatedly beginning to realize this.
8. Meanwhile, many lions were poisoned by pastoralists in Kenya at least. The internationally famous Marsh Pride in the Masai Mara lost many members, and other lions were poisoned near Amboseli National Park a few days later. Such killings reveal an unfortunate but pervasive lack of attention by the Kenya government to justifiable rural community complaints about being expected to live with wildlife on their lands for no compensation and little benefit. Poisoning of wildlife can never be condoned, but better attention needs to be paid to communities.
9. The EU banned in 2015 lion trophy imports from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mozambique. Zambia should also have been banned, as should have Tanzania. These two countries hang by a hair until the next EU Scientific Review Group meeting in February 2016. Meanwhile, LionAid joined other NGOs in demanding better transparency from the SRG in information used to arrive at their sometimes puzzling decisions in 2015. We were joined also by a number of EU Members of Parliament in this request, and we all anticipate much better transparency from the SRG in 2016.
So how do we go forward for better lion conservation in 2016?
1. Cease all lion trophy hunting imports.
2. Conduct lion population surveys in range states that still insist on lion trophy hunting offtake, especially surveys in the hunting areas. Such surveys should be conducted by independent agencies. Such surveys will doubtless reveal further the massive decline in lion populations – and contrast with the “hopeful” numbers promoted by trophy hunting countries and their allies in local wildlife departments.
3. Develop realistic plans to ensure that lions are protected within national parks and reserves. Conduct specific research to develop means of alleviating the major threats – and one of those should be rightly focused on disease.
Big challenges, in other words, for 2016. Together, we can achieve this.
Meanwhile, a happy and wonderful 2016 to all of you and your families. Bless you and a heartfelt thank you for the fabulous support you have given to us throughout 2015.