A recent report by the Panthera Foundation, Oxford University Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and WildAid called for $1.25 billion per year to significantly engage in remedial lion conservation programmes.
Wow. The organisations admit that there are perhaps 20,000 lions left in Africa. Meaning that annually, $62,500 in expenditure is meant to ensure the survival of every individual remaining lion? Not really, as the report mentions that this amount is what it would cost annually to maintain Africa’s protected areas where lions still manage to survive – the journalists who published articles on this report did not get their facts in line.
But let’s have a look at the organisations behind this report. The Panthera Foundation is a staunch supporter of lion trophy hunting as a conservation measure and OPPOSED the US listing of lion on their Endangered Species Act . It would seem that now that the USFWS has listed the lion, Luke Hunter and Panthera have amended their opposition and in the report now seem to refer to the USFWS decision in glowing terms. Oxford University are also supporters of lion trophy hunting as a conservation measure. WildAid is an organization attempting to reduce the illegal trade of shark fins, ivory and rhino horn, but has not until now dipped their toe into lion conservation. After Cecil, are all these organisations now attempting to belatedly change their minds?
Not really, as a careful reading of the report shows. For example, on page 13 there is a Table to “weigh” positive and negative aspects of trophy hunting. It should immediately be apparent that the “positive” aspects are listed first, and apply to trophy hunting in general. The negative aspects only apply to lions, and are poorly argued. For example, the report states that trophy hunting is a “minor” source of mortality to lions. The report states that “Contrary to popular belief, trophy hunting is a small factor in the fate of the African lion”. This at least begs the question – why then mention Cecil in the title? And in contrast to that message the report states on Page 12 “Hunting can act as an added threat to lion populations already under intense threat from people”? Who was responsible to edit this report in terms of delivering an inclusive message? On the same page, the report mentions that “The rapid recovery of lions under … moratoria demonstrated unequivocally that excessive hunting quotas suppress wild populations”.
So what do these organisations actually recommend to reduce hunting pressure?
1. “Ensure that tight age restrictions are in place in all countries where lions are hunted , and raise the minimum permissible age to seven years”. My comment – nobody can ensure that male lions of seven years are hunted. The confirmation of the age of lions killed is based on very shaky data based on the extent of pulp closure via an X ray of the second upper pre-molar tooth. I would pose that Wildlife Authorities in Africa do not have the required equipment, expertise, or will to enforce such regulations. And meanwhile the lion is already dead.
2.”Ensure that there is independent [by whom?] auditing of the ages of lions hunted and that aging and quota setting processes are fully transparent “. My comment – this is pie in the sky. How will this translate to conservation of lions in highly corrupt countries?
3. “Reform the process for allocating hunting blocks by rooting out corruption and ensuring that only reputable hunting operators are allocated leases”. My comment – what planet are you living on? Hunting blocks are allocated via bribes, inside connections, corrupt practices, nepotism. This will take years and years to correct if ever. We do not have such time.
4. “Regularly review the performance of hunting operators vis-à-vis concession management.” My comment - more pie in the sky as this has NEVER happened in any African trophy hunting nation and is NOT a requirement under any current lease. And who, exactly, is supposed to conduct such appraisals? The very corrupted wildlife departments that handed out the permits to begin with?
In conclusion, all that is proposed in this report cannot achieve reality as it is essentially based on what can only be called hopeful models. Surely by now, after years of working in Africa, the Panthera Foundation and Oxford University recognize that their proposals are not “do-able”?
Where to go from here is clear. Do not promote the additive and male-lion selective trophy hunt for this species. Do not make the excuses of piecemeal reforms that will not happen and have not happened after decades of calling for reform in the trophy hunting industry. Accept that the killing of Cecil was not an isolated event – rather just one more lion shot via corrupt practices. Ban lion trophy hunting while meanwhile ensuring that the protected areas they depend on are not invaded by bushmeat poachers, cattle owners, charcoal merchants, timber harvesters, etc. Acknowledge that the state of lion conservation is now so dire that only realistic measures should be considered. Accept that lions might have to retreat to protected areas and then protect them there by strict measures to ensure what is left for the immediate future.
Ensure that communities living with lions do not suffer negative consequences. On Page 19, Panthera mentions that one of their community schemes has paid dividends. Many similar programmes are operating in Africa and most are starved of funding. The UK Government, for example, turned down a cost effective and sustainable LionAid programme developed in collaboration with Maasai communities in Kenya on a technicality – LionAid did not have sufficient financial reserves (a few hundred thousand or so in bank account) to qualify for an award, despite all scientific and technical requirements having been met and exceeded.
Will lion conservation cost $1.25 billion per year? Not really, but any progress will require a sea-change by African governments to enable better protection of wildlife held in trust via their citizens. It is a will that must change. Governments must ensure that instead of trophy hunting operators being coddled via existing practices of major land allocations for private financial profit, governments must also accept and ensure that communities living with wildlife are enabled to vote for non-lethal tourism activities on their land.