Lions Matter

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

As the relatively good news about tiger numbers filters through – the population in the wild is now hovering near 4,000 – the situation facing lions continues to worsen.

It is hard to imagine that a species which can still be found in two dozen countries in Africa could be in such a terrible state but with perhaps only 20,000 lions across the whole Continent, it couldn’t get much worse – or could it?

Pressures on the species include:  fragmentation and loss of their habitat; the depletion of their natural prey (antelope, gazelle, etc); the increased risk of conflict with human communities and subsequent persecution (poisoning, spearing, shooting, etc.); and the threat of trophy hunting still hangs over the heads (quite literally) of up to 600 lions a year!

While many organisations, including Born Free, are doing what they can in the field, international attention is beginning to turn towards trophy hunting and some serious questions are being asked:

• Does it really deliver conservation dividends?
• Does it help conserve lions and their wild habitat?
• Is it ethical to kill animals for ‘fun’?

On top of all that, the ‘canned hunting’ industry in South Africa, where 6,000 – 8,000 lions are bred and held in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot to end up as trophies, may be stimulating an ‘out of control’ demand for wild lion products.

Currently, the South African government authorises the legal export of lion bones and skeletons from the canned hunting industry to south-east Asia where they are used as a surrogate for tiger bones (which are illegal).  In my view, this legal trade is dramatically stimulating demand and the latest figures concerning the export of lion bones from South Africa indicates that a tonne or more of bones were shipped out in 2013.  It also indicates that the number of lion skeletons shipped out in 2013 from South Africa to China, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand was (wait for it) just under 4,000.

I can barely imagine the horror of these ‘lion breeding factories’ in South Africa and the welfare implications for the individual animals involved.

But I can imagine the poaching community looking at this growing and lucrative legal trade and seeing an opportunity.  An opportunity to poach and launder wild lion bones, body parts and skeletons under cover of the legal trade, and literally make a ‘killing’.

If we are not to witness the ongoing decline of wild lions and if we are to prevent them becoming, like the tiger, critically endangered, then the time for action is now.  South Africa must close down the legal export trade of lion body parts, skeletons and bones; the international community must curtail or, preferably, end lion trophy hunting; we must all step up our work with local communities to reduce conflict;  we must increase investment in lion conservation across their range; and, as Born Free is already doing, we must work with national authorities in lion Range States to develop national lion conservation strategies throughout Africa so that people who care about lions, know what the detailed plan is and know where they can invest their support.

The African lion is a symbol of all that is wild and free in Africa.  The future of the species must be secured.  They must not disappear – not on our watch.

Blogging off

Recommended links:

Adopt a lion with Born Free
BBC Wildlife – Spring 2016
Blood Lions
Born Free’s Meru Lion Project
Born Free’s Lion-Proof Bomas
Hans Bauer and the New Lion Population in Alatash

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