Nothing much to see is there? Little to celebrate? But we live in hope as do the lions dependent on us to ensure their survival. Their lives are now up to us – even though they have their own natural struggles to survive.
Let me start with the bad news first.
1. Captive lion breeding in South Africa. What a disgusting practice. The world community has condemned it, but it just keeps on going on. Supported by a government not paying attention, no progress will be made unless strong insistence comes from the international community. In other words, avoid as a conscientious tourist. South Africa does not even know how many lions are kept in captive breeding cages to sell their hides to trophy hunters shooting them in small enclosures and to sell their bones to some CTM practitioners who like to falsely claim it is medicine in Asia.
2. Lion numbers. Health officials concerned with COVID would be overjoyed to see such declines. Lion numbers just keep on going down and down. What international remedies are in place? Very few to none. The IUCN, for example, rushed out a report to say that although lion population numbers were plummeting across Africa, the fact that a few fenced lion populations in South Africa were growing should prevent CITES delegates from placing African lions on their Appendix I. There are still those individuals who claim that trophy hunting of lions will benefit their conservation despite 20 or more years of evidence that it never has. If lions had been placed on Appendix I of CITES, where any reasonable person would insist they belong, commercial trade would have ended. Sadly, CITES has many loopholes that are readily exploited – trophy hunting is not considered commercial trade, and captive bred lions would be exempt from trade regulations even if they were placed on Appendix I. But at least the captive breeding lion hellholes in South Africa would have to meet the CITES criteria of a “captive breeding facility for Appendix I species”?
3. We have NO idea of how many lions cling to life in Africa. Bean counters would add 11 lions here and 12 lions there to make up an overall African continental total of whatever. That might satisfy some, but not those with an inquisitive mind. You see, small isolated populations do not species conservation make. The minimum long term viable population of lions is 250 adults. A better population for long-term viability would be 500 adults. How many of those are there? Sadly … about five.
4. France, the Netherlands and Australia have banned lion trophy hunting imports. Even the USA sets stringent guidelines. The UK still resists despite 693,218 signatories on just one petition via Change.org. How long can the UK government resist? And why do they resist joining other nations? Puzzling.
So now let’s come to the good news for lions.
1. Cabinet Secretary Balala in Kenya said he would support Lion Day and help conserve lions better.
2. There is a good movement afoot to conserve the few genetically unique western African lions in Niokolo-Koba park in Senegal/Guinea. Meanwhile, the stronghold population of those unique lions in Burkina Faso/Benin/Niger is in a civil war zone. Not a hope for survival there.
So what to do to go forward?
1. Ensure the survival and growth of lion populations that have some measure of long-term viability.
2. End all trophy hunting of lions and captive breeding of lions for their bones.
3. Focus on wild populations. So many people with good intentions donate much of their hard-earned cash to “rescues” of individual lions in broken down zoos. That saves a few but not the many. If lions are going to survive in the wild concentrate on saving those populations in addition to those pulling on heartstrings looking sad and emaciated in some zoo.
4. Insist with politicians that all trophy hunting imports of lion products must cease wherever in the world you live. It is an activity engaged by individuals who have no concern for lion population survival – they just want the skins.
Have a “thoughtful” World Lion Day everyone. Think carefully and act forcefully to ensure the survival of a species more ingrained in world cultures than any other.