Following the 24 November 2015, Adjournment Debate “African Lion Numbers,” IWB wrote to Mr Rory Stewart MP (letter dated 3 December 2015), the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) seeking clarity.
An informative and somewhat reassuring reply from DEFRA (DEFRA’s letter, dated 21 January 2016) has now been received:
- The UK Government’s ‘proviso’ is that many range countries rely on trophy hunting for income (we all know that income is the most important factor in many lion range countries). Hence the UK Government ‘recognises the right’ of such countries to adhere to the principle of “sustainable utilisation” of its resources and “strict quotas,” thereby generating “revenue to fund conservation work, land managers and local people are more likely to tolerate the presence of such large, dangerous animals…” Of course, it is recognised that this ‘utopia’ does not exist in every range country (or indeed any?). Hence the announcement that the UK Government will work with European and international partners (including the United States), and experts to “drive improvements in the hunting industry” and judgement made on a country by country basis – Well, let’s hope the much needed “hunting industry improvements” are substantial, rapid, widespread and sincere.
- The UK Government states that “unless we see significant improvement in the way hunting takes place, judged against criteria such as the age of lions being hunted, we will ban lion trophy imports within the next two years.” But of course, it could be too late by then for fragile lion sub-populations. On the key age criteria cited, it has been debated that any age limit (male lions greater than 6 years old is generally mooted), is highly subjective in the field (determined from the target lion’s level of nose pigmentation) and relies on the hunter’s compliance and competence at the time of any kill. There is clear past evidence to the contrary – In Katavi, Tanzania the estimated lion numbers were recorded as zero in 2014, from a population of 1,118 in 1993 (“Review of Panthera Leo from the United Republic of Tanzania and from Zambia,” UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Technical Report, August 2015). It should be noted, that from 2010, 41 adult males (less than five years old) had been “harvested” for trophies in Katavi.
- Clearly the hunter’s ability to not just pull the trigger anyway is not the best safeguard for any species’ future existence in my opinion. There is also on-going debate whether the mooted 6 years old is indeed the age at which any male lion’s killing (“harvesting“) has potentially minimal impact on a given pride’s sustainability. It has been suggested that a male lion’s key, dominant place within a pride can extend to a much older limit than 6 years of age:
- With regard to any CITES ‘uplist’ proposals, the UK Government is “engaged” with its European Union (EU) colleagues (EU as a Party to CITES) and “has yet to reach final conclusions.” However, a recent BBC interview referenced, gives hope that range countries may well carry a two-thirds majority to support ‘uplisitng’ the African lion at the forthcoming CITES, Conference of Parties (CoP17), Sept 24 – Oct 5, 2016:
- A petition to the UK Government seeks to ensure that the UK takes a strong ‘uplisting’ stance for the African lion, elephant and rhinoceros:
So, in conclusion I am pleased by the “commitment” expressed by the UK Government, but hope that the UK Government is ‘keen’ to take swift and decisive action where is it clear that the “hunting industry” continues to be complicit in unsustainable quotas for the sake of obtaining ‘trophies’ and the delusion that this somehow still helps ‘conservation.’ If the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) shows a hard-line, then hopefully the United Kingdom will follow suit from its work with such partners? Hopefully the EU will take a clear and decisive lead in its role as a party to CITES and push to ‘uplist’ the African lion to CITES Appendix I with the United Kingdom’s active support.