20 YEARS TO SAVE KING OF JUNGLE
The king of the jungle could be extinct in 20 years unless he gets better pro tection from hunters
Sunday March 18,2012
By Stuart Winter
The king of the animals is heading towards extinction in the next 20 years unless it receives international protection from the ravages of trophy hunting, leading conservationists warn today (Sunday).
As few as 3,000 powerful male lions with their glorious flowing manes and bellowing roars are left on their wild African domains and their numbers look destined to continue crashing because of the popularity of big game hunting.
Conflict with livestock farmers and disease has already taken a heavy toll of the big cat, sending its numbers plummeting by 90 per cent since the early Sixties.
Today the most iconic creature on earth – which features in the Royal Coat of Arms as well as both the England and Scotland football crests – has reached the “brink of oblivion”.
Lions have become the most coveted of all big game trophies, with hunters prepared to pay anything up to £100,000 to go on totally legal shoots, but, in what may sound the animal’s death knell, its bones are now in demand from the traditional Asian medicine trade.
Lions are disappearing across much of Africa and if we don’t act soon these magnificent creatures could face extinction
Environment Minister Richard Benyon
With tigers already teetering on the edge of extinction and heavily protected under international laws, legally obtained lion bones are becoming an alternative to be crushed into all manner of lotions and potions.
Such are the fears for the fate of the majestic big cat that the British Government has this week provided vital funding for a “Lion Summit” in Africa.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon has received cross-party support for giving £70,000 so that “decision makers” from 11 African nations can get round the table next week (March 29-30) and discuss ways of preventing the lion from going the same way as the dodo, woolly mammoth and sabre-tooth tiger.
Last night Mr Benyon told the Sunday Express: “Lions are disappearing across much of Africa and if we don’t act soon these magnificent creatures could face extinction.
“This funding is about getting together those countries that have lions in the wild, to find a way to ensure these extraordinary animals are given the level of protection they need.”
The money for the summit comes from Defra’s International Biodiversity Fund and has been awarded to LionAid, the British based charity campaigning to get a ban on the importation of lion trophies and products as well as getting it listed as “endangered” and afforded “World Heritage Species” status with UNESCO as are gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans.
Trophy hunting for lions remains a multi-million pound business despite their plummeting numbers, attracting sportsmen from both sides of the Atlantic who are allowed to ship back skulls and skins to show off their shooting prowess.
Figures show that between 2000 and 2009 Spain imported 779 lion trophies, France 529, Germany 211 and Great Britain 69.
Hunting companies advertise on the internet a wide range of trophy packages where marksmen are offered the chance to bag a handful of different antelope along with a single lion for five-figure fees.
Those nations that allow trophy hunting argue that it brings both valuable tourist income and also ensures that wildernesses continue to be protected, so increasing conservation efforts.
Tragically for such a social animal, targeting alpha male lions seriously disrupts the dynamics of a pride, reducing breeding success and continues the cycle of declining populations.
LionAid Trustee Chris Macsween says staging the conference in Johannesburg will allow those states with remaining critical populations of the feline such as Cameroon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania to discuss many vital issues.
High on the agenda will be discussing the “uplist” of lions from Appendix 2 of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species to Appendix 1, the same level of protection given to the great apes, tigers and whales.
Ms Macsween said: “This conference will enable forward-thinking range states to evaluate considered conservation programmes for African lions to better ensure their future survival. The continued decline in lions must be halted, and a forthright discussion of how to implement new ways forward is urgent and necessary.
“Uplisting will not prevent lion trophy hunting, but could lead to better conservation measures for a species that, despite substantial declines in population numbers and geographic range, is still subject to significant trade in some regions.
“In addition, the conference will establish latest estimated population numbers in the represented range states, progress of National Lion Conservation Plans, and measures taken by range states that allow lion trophy hunting to ensure such trade is not affecting conservation status.”
“Lions are such iconic creatures. I saw my first one on a photographic safari in Botswana in 2001 and I was overwhelmed by their power, beauty and majesty. They give you goosebumps and send a shiver down the spine.
“Today, they are on the very brink. Unless we reverse their appalling decline in numbers, I fear they will be extinct in the next 20 years.”
LionAid says that lions have declined greatly in numbers since the 1960s. Then, it was established that 200,000 could be found on the continent. Today there are perhaps 25,000 lions, a decline close to 90 per cent in 50 years, and means there are about 3,000 adult trophy males.
The charity estimates that 40 per cent of such males occur in protected areas, leaving a “huntable” total of about 1,800 males, and yet the “trophy harvest” has averaged 665 exports per year.
Fellow LionAid trustee Dr Pieter Kat, an evolutionary geneticist who has spent a lifetime studying the big cat, said while lions have been stricken by diseases such as the feline equivalent of AIDs, distemper and bovine tuberculosis, hunting has become a huge concern.
He added: “Lion trophy hunting is now a significant, if not the major, source of mortality for those lion populations remaining. Mortality goes well beyond the individual trophy – some have estimated that one shot male translates into more than a dozen other lions, mainly cubs, dying in the pride.
“The lion is among the best studied predators in the world. There are lion projects in virtually all African lion range states. More science will not save the lion, though. Going forward, we need political solutions.
“These need to be twofold: the range states must develop national conservation plans and the international community must lend their support to these measures and also support a global ban on trophy imports.
In the UK, LionAid’s fight to save the lion has garnered cross-party support. Fiona O’Donnell, Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
“I would like to congratulate LionAid for their work in highlighting the devastating impact of trophy hunting on lion populations and for gaining the funding to host a conference to put in place much greater protections.
“This is a real opportunity for African Lion Range States to work together to ensure the long-term survival of lions and clamp-down on the abhorrent trade in lion trophies.”
For more details about LionAid and to make a donation see: http://www.lionaid.org