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The Scientific Review Group makes illogical decisions

It is important that you read this blog, as it impacts on wildlife conservation in general and lion conservation in particular – trade in wildlife products is a multibillion dollar industry and affects the future of all exploited species.

In addition to CITES, the global organization “regulating” trade in wildlife products to ensure it is “sustainable”, all countries can impose their own regulations on imports based on independent assessments. The USA, for example, has their sovereign Endangered Species Act and does not allow the importation of cheetah hunting trophies while CITES and the EU allow such trade.

The EU, composed of 27 Member States, decided to act as a bloc and while largely guided by CITES, does have the means to impose more stringent import restrictions under the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. Such possible supplementary restrictions are decided by the EU Scientific Review Group (SRG), a body that meets 3 to 4 times per year to assess the impact that the EU trading bloc (arguably one of the biggest markets in the world) has on conservation of traded species.

Given that background, we were very interested to read the various opinions reached by the SRG at their recent meeting on 11 September 2012.

We note that concerning Panthera leo, the SRG delivered a Positive Opinion for imports from the United Republic of Tanzania, and withheld opinion on such imports from Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The “no opinion” decision for all three countries mentioned above was based on rationale iii) – that “the species is not currently (or is only rarely) in trade, but significant trade in relation to the conservation status could be anticipated”.

We wonder what the SRG was thinking when they made those decisions and would like to provide you with information on why we  we consider these decisions to be wrong; all data is provided below.

1. Tanzania. This lion range state is estimated to contain the largest population of lions remaining on the continent. The estimated numbers vary considerably between authors, and range from 7,070 to 15,600. Many of those lions are shared across borders, especially with Kenya and Mozambique.  Tanzania is estimated to have set aside 250,000 km2 as hunting concessions, but it is uncertain how many of those are still operational due to mismanagement, poaching, and overhunting. Prime concessions are in the Selous, where elephant poaching is out of control. Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota who has long been researching lions in the Serengeti recently completed studies that show a number of worrying trends: Tanzania has until recently awarded a total lion annual quota of 500 licences but this total was never achieved (as there were simply not enough lions to shoot, rather than a lack of hunters to shoot them). Tanzania has shown a significant decline in trophy exports since 2001; Packer documents a great decline in trophy “quality” (male lions aged as young as 2 being shot); Packer documents the reason for the decline in trophy harvest as 94% attributable to overhunting in the past. In other words, the decline in overall trophy harvest since 2001 is largely attributable to the fact that fewer and fewer trophy quality males remain in hunting concessions. In addition to Tanzania having exported 5,115 hunting trophies since CITES records began in 1975 until 2010, the country has also exported 1,207 skins. Major importing nations in the EU are France (13% of trophies) and Spain (10%). The largest importer of trophies is the USA (47%).

2. Mozambique. This lion range state only began trophy hunting at any level in 1993 – before that date a long-lasting civil war had decimated all wildlife in the country. Mozambique maintains a low level of trophy exports as there are strict controls on the age of male lions that can be exported – they have to be in excess of 6 years. For this country alone we would agree with the conclusions of the SRG – opinion withheld. The major EU importer is Spain (22% of trophies)

3. Zambia. With a low number of total lions estimated in the country, it is evident that Zambia is not sustainably hunting their lion population. For example, Zambia exported over 1,900 trophies 1975-2010 and 342 skins. It should be noted that the incoming President dismissed the entire Board of the Zambian Wildlife Authority and that the newly appointed Minister for Environment is considering a further hunting moratorium (one was put place for a year in 2002). Nevertheless, we would argue that lion offtake levels in Zambia are not sustainable at current levels (see Table 2). Major EU importer is Spain (6% of trophies); the overall biggest importer is USA (62%). It should be noted, however, that there was a very big spike of 199 trophy exports in 2010 – 105 of which went to Russia. This sudden increase remains unexplained by the authorities.

4. Zimbabwe. This is the most surprising in terms of the “no decision” nations by the SRG. Zimbabwe is estimated to have a relatively modest lion population (estimated variously at 850-1037) but has engaged in a highly destructive export of lion products. With 2,980 hunting trophies exported and 1,512 skins since 1980, this country cannot in any way be seen to be engaging in the slightest form of “sustainable offtake” (see Table 2). Reports from a lion research project run by Oxford University in Hwange National Park indicate that hunting takes place both within the protected area and on the very boundaries – lions are lured out by means of baits. Lion populations in other protected areas and photographic tourism areas have been similarly targeted, and radiocollared research animals are harvested with regularity. There has been a complete collapse of lion populations in hunting concessions and protected areas as a result. The decline in trophy numbers since 1995 is indicative of this gross overutilization. There can be no justification for Zimbabwe to be involved in any further trade in any wild lion product, and the decision by the SRG to pass no opinion can only be attributed to a very serious disregard of any available information. Major trophy importers in the EU are Spain (8%) and Germany (4%). The USA leads with 58%. 

5. The SRG did NOT consider lion imports from countries like Burkina Faso, Benin, Central African Republic, and Cameroon. Not only do these countries have a genetically distinct population of lions (more related to lions in India than those in eastern and southern Africa), but the major trophy importing countries are all within the EU (France, Italy, Germany, Belgium). Burkina Faso exported 161 trophies (2000-2010) from an estimated lion population of 250; Benin exported 13 trophies (2000-2010) from a population of 330 (seems sustainable); Cameroon exported 103 trophies (2000-2010) from a population of 150; Central African Republic exported 83 trophies (2000-2010, a rising trend with 18 in 2009 and 26 in 2010) from an unknown remaining population. Except in the case of Benin, there should be a negative SRG opinion on all these lion exports until the source population can be independently established.

 Overall, we would seriously question the decisions made by the SRG (except in the case of Mozambique) and would also query the information used to inform such decisions. A Scientific Review Group should be able to access, as we did in this report to you, published scientific information and the CITES trade database. We would encourage the SRG to be much more diligent in seeking informed outside opinion to be considered at meetings before coming to such rather surprising and overall inappropriate decisions concerning Panthera leo imports, especially given the fact that the species has declined by over 90% in numbers over the past 50 years to less than 20,000 on the continent today.

 As you know, we would like to see a complete ban on any lion products to the EU in the future with only a few range states excepted based on our analyses of current grossly unsustainable levels of offtake.

Table 1: Additional lion product exports by country, 1975-2010

































Hunting Trophies 1975-2010






Lion Pop’n estimates*






*Population min and max estimates from Chardonnet 2002, Bauer & v.d Merwe 2004, IUCN 2006, Riggio 2011. All ages, both sexes; protected areas as well as hunting concessions.

Table 2: Trophy hunting harvest versus available adult male lions



Hunting areas km2

Protected areas km2

Total lion population est. 2011

Total estimated adult males in hunting areas

Trophies/yr of males 2006-2010








60% annual offtake -







58% annual offtake







112% annual offtake


All three countries are harvesting well over 50% of adult males per year from the population of “available” males in hunting concessions based on an assumption of equal distribution of lions across hunting areas and protected areas and a generous estimate that 15% of the total number of lions in a population consists of adult males (range- 9-15%). This level of offtake will be associated with reproductive collapse of lion populations in hunting areas, not least due to highly increased levels of infanticide and pride disruption as described by Loveridge et al 2007, Packer et al 2010, Stander 2010, Croes et al 2011, Davidson et al 2011, Palazy et al 2011. Note that trophy hunting concession holders always refuse independent assessment of the structure, numbers and reproductive health of lion populations in hunting areas compared to protected areas.

Posted by Pieter Kat at 12:33

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