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Lions and Parliament

Tuesday 1st February 2011

Lions and Parliament

Lions and Parliament

Those of you familiar with this website will know that LionAid together with Andrew Turner MP (Isle of Wight) was able to bring a debate on lion trophy hunting to the UK Parliament on November 17, 2010. The full text of the debate can be found here.  The reason for the debate was to urge the UK Government and eventually other governments to review carefully the significant impact trophy hunting is contributing to the decline of Africa’s lion populations.

The Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Richard Benyon, received the debate and replied on the date, promising more action from the UK Government on the issue.

Response by the UK Government

In a letter to Andrew Turner on 20 December the Minister had this to say:

Dear Andrew:

Thank you for raising your and others’ concerns about the sustainability of African lion populations in the wild and in particular questions pertaining to lion trophy hunting during our Westminster Hall debate on 17th November 2010. Thank you also for your letter of 6 December providing further thoughts on the issue.

As I hope was apparent, I share your concerns and as promised, I am writing to set out the Government’s proposed action to address those concerns. As I made clear during the debate, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) seeks to ensure that trade is sustainable and does not threaten the survival of a species in the wild. It does not seek to simply ban trade and has little remit over domestic trade.

You have set out very clearly fears that although hunting of lions and the resulting trophies may be perfectly legal, the way in which the individual targets of those hunts are selected may be placing individual populations under increasing strain. My officials are seeking the reaction of Tanzania to these claims, as this country was the subject of concerns raised in a BBC article and recent study. Unless we receive compelling reassurance to this enquiry we will seek to gain the support of the EU to raise this at the next CITES Animals Committee with a view to seeking a Review of Significant Trade. Subject to the response from Tanzania and the views of the UK’s statutory scientific authority, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, such a review could be widened to include all lions. We could either take this action ourselves or, if we can reach agreement, though a like-minded lion range state. Such a review should lead to corrective actions where necessary or, if the necessary assurances or actions are not forthcoming, to trade restrictions.

I cannot prejudge the outcome of our investigations but I assure you I will not hesitate to press for whatever action is necessary should your concerns be confirmed.

Yours ever, Richard Benyon MP

LionAid is obviously pleased by this response and delighted to see that the issue is being taken seriously and moving forward with the full backing of the UK Government.

Action - EU

also suggest action under the EC Wildlife Trade Regulation (WTR). With the dissolution of borders between many EU countries, the WTR came into force as a substitute for national wildlife trade regulations established by individual EU countries. The WTR generally mirrors CITES regulations, but can and has imposed stricter rules for imports in a number of cases. The WTR operates on a system of Annexes similar to the CITES Appendices, and lions are currently on Annex B. However, the WTR requires an import permit for lion trophies as well as the CITES mandated export permit issued by African lion range states. If trade restrictions are upheld, import permits will no longer be issued.

LionAid has now embarked on what we call Action-EU to seek modification of the status of the African lion in the WTR to Annex A – no further imports.

At present, trophy hunting of lions does not comply with many stipulations of Council Regulation (EC) 338/97 concerning the 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 (with the exception of range states that have imposed lion hunting moratoria, and in some cases range states that have recently adopted the “six year” rule);
• 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.

The procedure to establish stricter guidelines within the WTR than exist for CITES is as follows:

• 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.

EU action and an important message sent

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 the UK and the EU could send 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.

The UK Parliamentary debate has clearly led to progress. After meeting with Andrew Turner MP and Roger Gale MP, we will now also seek the support of the UK Members of European Parliament (MEP) to keep pushing the issue forward. Those of you from Europe reading this can also contribute by bringing a similar debate to your country’s parliament. LionAid will initially seek to bring such debates to Germany and the Netherlands.

Conservation requires multifaceted approaches to arrive at an overall goal that protects species. What is needed for lions is action on all fronts, and we believe the political approach will do much to raise awareness about the decline of lion populations and to eventually prevent further use of lions as gratifying trophies for a few to the detriment of a world heritage species.

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Posted by Pieter Kat at 11:41

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