On World Lion Day, words fail me when I discovered this morning that the UK Government has asked the Safari Club International and the SCI Foundation ( the premier hunting and lobbying organisations in the USA) to provide them with information to determine the effects of increased regulation on lion trophy hunting. Given the bias and vested interests of the SCI and the SCIF this is extremely puzzling, as a much better and unbiased source of information would have been the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
After all it was the USFWS that made the decision to list lions as a threatened species on the US Endangered Species Act. That listing required that the USFWS must provide import permits for all lion trophies, and review all applications on a case by case basis to determine whether the import of such trophies “enhances” the conservation of lions.
This ESA listing and the added 4(d) rule will provide conservation measures for lions by establishing a permitting mechanism for the importation of sport-hunted lion trophies that will ensure hunting contributes to the survival of the species in the wild. The USFWS found that sport-hunting may provide a benefit to the subspecies if well managed, however, recent information received during the public comment period indicated that not all trophy hunting programmes were providing benefits to lions. The USFWS also wanted to ensure that US trophy imports originated from countries with a scientifically sound management programme and provide funds that further lion conservation.
Given that these restrictions on imports came into force on January 22nd of this year, it would appear that not a single application for a lion trophy import permit has been filed since that time, in the USA. Are we surprised? After all, it must be onerous and difficult to prove that trophy hunting of lions contributes to conservation of the species? Or to find a lion trophy hunting country in Africa that has a scientifically sound lion management programme and provides funds to enhance lion conservation?
During the Adjournment Debate in UK Parliament on November 24th, 2015, Minister Rory Stewart said this – “We are working with our European Union and American partners to make it very clear that, unless there is a significant improvement in the performance of the hunting industry and of those countries, this Government will move to ban lion trophies.” .
During subsequent private meetings between Minister Stewart and LionAid, he promised to consider a ban shortly after the upcoming CITES conference of parties in September/October, with all indications that this review would be favourable. He also indicated that the UK would align with the USA in imposing stricter import regulations (current UK/EU require that import permits be issued on a case by case basis with the requirement that trophy hunting is “sustainable” – a term without meaning).
With a change in UK Government, Minister Stewart has now been reshuffled, and it would seem that a change at the top seems to involve some backpedalling. That is to be expected, but for the UK to consult the Safari Club International seems a very strange move to say the least. Especially since a report published by the US Congress Committee on Natural Resources (June 13th, 2016) specifically mentioned the pitfalls of soliciting “information” from vested interest groups like SCI – “Indeed, a recent assessment of lion population status across Africa found no scientific merit in any of the SCI-funded “surveys” that had been conducted in various range states.”
Yet here is the UK Government specifically asking the SCI to provide “information to help the UK decide whether to impose a total ban on importation of lion trophies into the UK by the end of 2017. One of the questions the UK government is asking is whether there is evidence of increased regulation (such as in the United States) on lion hunting” .
We will get to the bottom of this soonest and try to ascertain who in Defra authorised this request, but please meanwhile circulate this report.