Another Missed Opportunity by CITES

Stephen Wiggins Article 15 Comments

In early September 2016, the renowned body of scientists, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed Motion 009  – “the prohibition by the South African Government on the capture of wild lions for breeding or keeping in captivity.

IUCN Motion 009 – “Terminating the hunting of captive-bred lions (Panthera leo) and other predators and captive breeding for commercial, non-conservation purposes” – “NOTING that the great majority of hunters regard ‘canned shooting’ as an ethically repugnant embarrassment” – IUCN’s Motion 009 (WCC 2016 Res. 13)

In stark contrast, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) has announced its severely compromised Draft Decisions on the African Lion – CoP17 Com 1. 29 – a  document prepared by the European Union (the previously stated EU stance on trophy hunting, CoP17 Doc 39.1 given here) and the Niger in their role as co-Chairs of the Working Group on the African Lion.

There was a proposal (CoP17 Prop. 4) by nine African nations (Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria and Togo) to ‘uplist’ the African lion to Appendix I protection (making all trade in African lions subject to strict export and import criteria). The proposal was previously analysed in detail, aiming to end the lion bone trade and put the brakes on excessive, unscientific lion hunting quotas. The CITES Secretariat published its view (rejecting Proposal 4) before CoP17 stating “Based on the information available at the time of writing, Panthera leo does not meet the biological criteria in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 1 for its inclusion in Appendix I.”

Instead, a severely compromised ‘plan’ has emerged (voted on in a ‘secret ballot’ under an evasive CITES procedural anomaly) favouring continuation of lion exploitation for bone and body parts trading, plus the continuation of wild lion hunting quotas being unhindered in range states for fun killers to gain their thrills (and everyone continues to pretend the income actually helps conservation of the species). Seemingly, a hijack of CoP17 has taken place.

Petition: Lions (CoP17 Prop. 4) – CITES: Give Lions the Due & Proper Protection they Deserve


Picture credit: Drew Abrahamson, Captured in Africa Foundation

We are now presented with the following summary of proposals for the African lion:

  • The only perceivable upside,  is that there is a proposal for a “zero annual export quota is established for specimens of bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes.” This does not include lion trophies obtained from ‘legal’ hunting activities;
  • However, a mirror, ‘legal’ trade in commercially bred (‘canned’) lions will be allowed to perpetuate – “Annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa will be established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat.” South Africa alone legally exported 1,200 skeletons – 11 tonnes of bones – between 2008 and 2011, the latest figures available reveal;
  • It’s naïve to assume that any such ‘legal’ trade in ‘canned’ lions (with any quotas set by South Africa itself within the virtually unregulated South African lion breeding industry) will not be infiltrated by illicitly sourced wild lion body parts. How can any authority (assuming there will even be an effective one) monitor the source of any lion bones and body parts for export and tell the difference between legitimate ‘canned’ and illicit wild lion/big cat parts being introduced into a ‘legal’ route? The risk is, that this naïve trade, endorsed by CITES, will fuel demand, the proliferation of more ‘canned’ breeding farms and the poaching of wild lions/big cats as others seek to infiltrate/profit;
  • Of course, there are proposals to develop strategies, monitor  hunting activities and enhance lion conservation plans etc. (a similar 2006 paper exercise achieved little in terms of actual implementation), establish a CITES Task Force on African lions etc. The question is, what more evidence is CITES expecting to learn that it doesn’t have/know already?

The African lion’s plight is desperate and urgent right now – CITES must know this, but its ability to act has seemingly been hijacked and compromised by forces with more commercial ‘needs’ in mind for utilisation of the African lion (in contradiction to the previous, 2007  CITES  banning of all similar ‘canned’ exploitation of Appendix I listed tigers – although ‘canned’ tiger farms still persist in China, plus Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam).

The tacit support of other CITES parties in reaching this compromised decision on the African lion is unforgivable. The naïve expectations set are a doomed legacy for humanity to witness – we have to continue to fight to reverse it if African lions are to remain a wild species in the near future and the ‘obvious’ ‘canned’ abuse of this iconic species is ever going to end humanely.

The fight also continues to remove Appendix I exemptions of African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa (CoP17 Prop. 16 ) – with the commendable exception of Botswana, the three remaining countries argued “that their elephant populations are doing well and they want to renew the trade in ivory at some point in the future.” – BBC News, 3 October 2016. Elephant poaching is increasing in South Africa, so the short-term assertion taken in their elephant populations’ immunity/security in The Kruger National Park might be short-sighted.

Somehow the CITES opportunity to send a clear message that elephants and their tusks are not a tradable commodity that legitimises poaching, CoP17 Prop. 16  was rejected. A block vote by the European Union opposed to Proposal 16 reportedly (BBC News and The Independent) having a significant impact on the proposal’s majority rejection and Namibia’s ‘threats’:

If it hadn’t been for the EU we’d have had elephants on Appendix I by now and that would send a massive signal to the world” Dr Roz Reeve, David Shepherd Foundation

Update: Heartfelt “CITES: observations from a young Honorary Wildlife Warden,” Raabia Hawa, Africa Geographic, 10 October 2016

A proposal to give African elephants more protections—which would have put a permanent ban on the ivory trade—was defeated, at least in part because one pro-ivory trade country made a powerful threat: If the proposal went through, Namibia warned that it would enter a “reservation” saying it would simply resume ivory sales outside the CITES legal regime. The convention allows any country to file a reservation saying it will not be bound by a particular provision in the treaty. Many consider this a serious shortcoming, likening threats such as Namibia’s warning to “blackmail.”” – Nuclear Weapons Tests Can Help Fight Elephant Poaching,” National Geographic, 5 October 2016

For the avoidance of further confusion, “CITES deals with international trade, it is not there to deal with the conservation of species in situ – there is a great deal of misunderstanding about that,” said John Sellar, formerly chief of enforcement for CITES – BBC News – Well, that’s more than clear. 

The emphasis falls on unilateral (individual countries) action to stem the flow of trade harmful to wildlife conservation:

More effective than watered down and “compromise” CITES resolutions are the actions by Australia, France and the Netherlands that have banned imports of all lion products for example. We need far more countries to take such courses instead of merely expressing regret that the overall consensus at CITES went against their vote. And this is where we can all be much more effective – rather than dealing with 182 CITES “Parties”, we can lobby much more effectively to close down wildlife trade of individual countries. This course of action, in my opinion, is where the future lies for conservation of wildlife affected by the illegal and the contentious legal trade” – “CITES lives up to expectations,” LionAid, 4 October 2016


Further Reading:

Countries fail to agree on complete ban to protect African lions from global trade,” Damian Carrington, The Guardian, 2 October 2016

COP OUT 17 Hunters win again,” Chris Mercer, Campaign Against Canned Hunting, 3 October 2016

Shock as CITES Approves Trade in Lion Bone of South Africa’s Captive Lions,” SAPeople News, 2 October 2016


Mark Jones, Associate Director at Born Free, said: “The moratorium on commercial exports from wild lions is of course welcome. However, by leaving open the door for captive lion breeding facilities to sell their lion bones, CITES Parties have failed to protect lions and other big cats from this heinous trade. Bones from hunted or poached wild lions and other endangered big cats will doubtless be laundered into trade, while captive breeders will continue to speed-breed lions and condemn them to short, miserable lives in commercial breeding facilities.”

#ShockWildlifeTruths: Lions fail to get uplisted at CITES CoP17,” Selene Brophy, Traveller24, 3 October 2016

Rand, not lion, is the king,” Graeme Hosken, Times Live, 3 October 2016

Is canned lion hunting a sustainability scam?” Ian Michler, Opinion – IOL, 3 October 2016

What will our children say after we let all the lions die?,” Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, 4 October 2016

Pangolins and parrots protected – lions and elephants lose,” New Scientist, Daily News, 4 October 2016

Lions are traded for body parts and shot as trophies… we must act to save them,” The Mirror, 4 October 2016

Nuclear Weapons Tests Can Help Fight Elephant Poaching,” National Geographic, 5 October 2016

Lions are better protected, but loopholes mean threats remain,” The Conversation, 6 October 2016

Why we refuse to give-up on saving endangered lions – whether they have legal protection, or not,” Adam M Roberts, Born Free USA, One Green Planet, 12 October 2016

World body that could protect elephants—decides not to,” A Voice for elephants, 13 October 2016

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