Connections

It has been said the only difference between a hunter and a poacher is a piece of paper. It is with that piece of paper that the Walter Palmer’s of the world operate, with very little to no consequences for their actions. They also seem to be protected by the law, which is a strange and disturbing concept to most of us.

Emotions ran high again after the news broke that there would be no charges against Palmer in the death of Cecil the Lion but, should we really should be shocked about the outcome? Not at all and, if anything this teaches us that by holding the proper permits, one is entitled to legally hunt and kill a Lion.

Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri said: “We approached the police and then the Prosecutor General, and it turned out that Palmer came to Zimbabwe because all the papers were in order.”

Unlike Palmer, Zimbabwean hunter Theo Bronkhorst who set up the hunt, was not so lucky. He is accused of failing to stop an illegal hunt when he helped Palmer kill Cecil. Accused by the same government who said they would not charge Palmer because he had obtained legal authority to conduct the hunt. Bronkhorst’s professional hunter license was also taken away and when asked if he was innocent he said yes “I believe our permits were in order … and I still think we are gonna be vindicated.” Bronkhorst has also said collared lions were shot in Zimbabwe every year, adding that five such big cats had been killed in 2015. So was the hunt legal or illegal? Zimbabwe decides who it wants to prosecute and seems to be sending some very confusing messages on where it stands on this case.

Cecil’s head is set to be presented in court as evidence after it was discovered by the police in the city of Bulawayo where it was being prepped for shipment to Palmer in the United States.

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Image – CBC

Meanwhile Pennsylvania Dr. Jan Seski, another American trophy hunter who made news around the same time as Palmer for allegedly killing a Lion in an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe, flew under the radar. Seski also insisted he had all the ‘papers in order’ and his attorney released a statement saying that he “had engaged in a lawfully permitted hunt”. The Zimbabwe government said no charges have been sought against him, though an investigation was continuing. I bet you can guess what will happened with that. Like Palmer Seski, also a bow hunter, has killed his fair share of wildlife.

With the collective anger focused on one particular man and maybe because Seski’s Lion didn’t have a name, he got off relatively easy, or so it seems.  A quick search shows he is suffering some backlash, although not as prominently as Palmer.

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Regardless, Palmer has helped expose the dark, corrupt, greedy and brutal world of trophy hunting to the masses like never before. His name will not likely fade from our collective memory any time soon. UK-based Charity LionAid commented that they were not surprised at the verdict and reiterated that he “was only one of many hundreds of trophy hunters before him who hunted at the thin edge of the law.” They also hint as to why he was not prosecuted, and why Seski would not be either, “If Zimbabwe had decided to prosecute Walter Palmer it would have established a procedure by which future Walter Palmer’s could be prosecuted. That would not benefit Zimbabwe’s hunting operator income streams. “

As long as we have opposing schools of thought on wildlife conservation, the value of wildlife (dead or alive) and, as long as there is money to be made ethics and science seem to be thrown out the window.

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Cecil in 2012 – Image The Dodo (Shutterstock)

“Whenever people say “We mustn’t be sentimental,” you can take it they are about to do something cruel. And if they add “We must be realistic,” they mean they are going to make money out of it.” – Brigid Brophy

The claim that African Countries make large sums of money off trophy hunting, even though research has proved only 3% off the earnings from hunting companies go to the local communities, continues to come up as a reason why we should allow the killing of wildlife for sport. US hunting groups and hunter of the endangered black rhino, Corey Knowlton have even filed a lawsuit against Delta Airlines for its ban on transporting big game hunting trophies stating that the ban hurts conservation “Tourist hunting revenue is the backbone of anti-poaching in Africa.”

This myth however continues to be debunked and  Emmaual Fundira  who heads the Safari operators in Zimbabwe tells CBS News that the industry is full of corruption. “Americans like Palmer make up the majority of Zimbabwe’s trophy hunters, and part of the huge hunting fees they pay is supposed to go to conservation and community projects…it rarely does.” When asked how much money the government gives to the parks, Fundira replied nothing. “In most cases, you find that the bureaucratic nature of organizations, most of that money may be consumed to a large extent through administration costs and does not necessarily filter directly to conservation.”

An article published in 2011 by Wildlife Extra looked at both sides of big game hunting in Africa with some interesting findings. The study clarified, with an emphasis on West Africa, big game hunting according to conservation, socioeconomic and good governance criteria. I have noted some quick takeaways here:

  • The economic results of big game hunting are low. Land used for hunting generates much smaller returns than that used for agriculture or livestock breeding.
  • Hunting contributions to GDP and States national budgets are insignificant, especially when considering the size of the areas concerned.
  • Returns for local populations, even when managed by community projects are insignificant, and cannot prompt them to change their behavior regarding poaching and agricultural encroachment.
  • The hunting sector uses up a lot of space without generating corresponding socio-economic benefits.
  • Good governance is also absent from almost the entire big game hunting sector in many countries. Those who currently have control of the system are not prepared to share that power and undertake adjustments that would mean relinquishing control.
  • Hunting used to have, and still has, a key role to play in African conservation. It is not certain that the conditions will remain the same. Hunting does not however play a significant economic or social role and does not contribute at all to good governance.
  • Tourist hunters kill around 105,000 animals per year, including around 640 elephants, 3,800 buffalo, 600 lions and 800 leopards. Such quantities are not necessarily reasonable. It can be noted for example, that killing 600 lions out of a total population of around 25,000 (i.e. 2.4%) is not sustainable. A hunting trip usually lasts from one to three weeks, during which time each hunter kills an average of two to ten animals, depending on the country.

Trophy Hunting has been marketed as a ‘sustainable’ money maker and for the most part governments, individuals and some organizations seem to have bought it no questions asked. What happens when those animals are gone, or are so rapidly declining like the Lion that there is almost nothing left to hunt? I guess that’s when you start shooting collard Lions around protected parks…

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the African Lion as vulnerable with the West African sub-populations listed as “critically endangered” due to over-hunting and dwindling prey. Under the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) African Lions fall under Appendix II meaning as a species they can be commercially traded with restrictions. They are also considered less vulnerable even though they are not threatened with extinction but, may become so unless strict regulations are implemented.

Along with being declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the African Lion would benefit from being listed on CITES Appendix I, whereby trade in a species is extremely strict and commercial trade is prohibited.

While trophy hunters come from all over, the USA remains a major player because they continue to be the number 1 importer (over 50%) of Lion trophies. The flip side to this is that they also have an ability to help Lions by listing them as ‘endangered’ under the ESA, thus enacting a ban on imports of Lions parts and Lion trophies into the country.  This would make it less appealing to spend money on killing an animal that you can’t take home and put on display.

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In 2011 a number of US-based conservation organizations petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for an endangered listing for the African Lion. In 2012 the USFWS came back with a Threatened listing, after reviewing all of the ‘best scientific and commercial’ information. They did not find sport hunting to be a threat to Lions, currently.

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Image – IFAW

The public comment period on the USFWS proposal closed January 27, 2015 and a decision is still forthcoming. If finalized the threatened status allows for a loophole, Rule 4 (d), which requires import permits for Lion trophies (parts) from African countries that have ‘scientifically sound’ management plans for Lions. The proposed rule is intended to promote additional conservation efforts by authorizing only activities that would provide a direct or indirect benefit to lions in the wild. There are problems with this rule being that no accurate scientific and independent studies have been completed to determine what Lion numbers are, in either the protected areas or the areas where Lions are hunted. Therefore it can’t be determined what a ‘scientifically sound’ management plans is with no numbers to back it up. Sadly the trend seems to be to ignore science altogether and if that’s the case, actual numbers won’t matter.

While the governing bodies fall pretty short on protecting Lions, and an endangered designations isn’t full proof, it will still afford better protection than what we currently have. Hopefully it would provide Lions with some relief and also give conservation organizations a chance to address the other factors contributing to their decline such as habitat loss, poaching, human wildlife conflict and disease.

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Lion numbers are estimated to be at around 20,000, however LionAid actually puts estimates even lower at 15,000, across all of Africa. No matter how trophy hunters spin it they are not helping Lions. The proof is in the numbers, killing Lions doesn’t contribute to saving them.

Currently Australia has put a ban on importation of Lion trophies as part of a crackdown on canned hunting and the EU has suspended trophies from West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Ethiopia) but failed to pass a ban on trophies from East and South Africa (Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe). This was very disappointing considering the mass of scientific evidence to back up that Lions in all countries, are in deep trouble.

Trophy hunters for the most part I believe, will not be swayed by the compassionate conservation argument, or by the evidence that predators play a key role in maintaining Eco-systems, or that ultimately sport hunting does nothing to protect wildlife or keep local communities afloat. This means it will be up to the rest of us to try to convince our governments and conservation organizations to do what is both morally right and scientifically sound. We must continue to make our voice heard by signing petitions, writing to government, organizations, attending rallies, donating to charities/organizations working to preserve Lions (wildlife) and educating others.

In the meantime LionAid has put together a proposed strategy on how to conserve Lions that should get us thinking on where we go from here. This is the summary for wild Lions, please click on the link above for the full article which also includes a proposal for the captive bred (canned hunting) Lion crisis.

1. Cease all trophy hunting of wild lions. “Sustainable” utilization of lions has been the biggest failure of any “conservation” programme proposed to ensure the survival of any endangered mammal.

2. Count lions via independent scientists. Cease all reliance on vested interest group or range state estimates of their lion populations to further justify trophy hunting off take. Cease any reliance on “indirect” counts and “extrapolations”.

3. If lions are to be considered by any stretch of imagination as a species available for “sustainable off take” let’s do some lion counts where such counts count. In other words in the hunting areas. There has been not ONE such survey in trophy hunting areas. Justifying off take as sustainable is therefore a nonsense.

4. If rural communities are expected to live with lions, implement compensation programmes that are both durable, reliable and sustainable. Any programme that continuously relies on donor input or “tolerance” will fail in the long-term. Government compensation programmes will fail because of an abundance of bureaucracy and an abundance of reluctance to pay.

5. Do better research. A much better assessment of the disease risks that challenge the survival of the few remaining large lion populations is overdue.

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Image –Nick Brandt – Lion Trophy – Across the Ravaged Land

The more you delve into the world of trophy hunting the more you see the subtle and not so subtle connections to wildlife conservation. Whether we like this connection or not, for now it seems it’s here to stay. Ultimately this may leave us with more questions than answers on how to work most effectively to save Lions and other wildlife.

World Heritage Species

I am big believer in petitions and sign more than I can count, and while I understand that not every petition works, some do surpass their intended outcome. One benefit, regardless of the perceived success, is that they can be good vehicles for creating awareness. In some cases they may even be a catalyst for changing laws and the way business is done. For the few minutes or seconds it takes you to sign and share a petition, change can already be underway.

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The first of its kind, this particular petition is asking to establish a “World Heritage Species” program. This would be similar to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites initiative, but would extend to recognize and protect wildlife. The petition also asks that the first species listed in this program is the Lion.

The Change.org petition is circulating around the world, should you wish to sign and share it can be found here.

Brent Stapelkamp, field researcher with Oxford University’s WILDCRU, who had been following Cecil the Lion for nine years speaks about this very petition.

It is interesting to note that Brent in a previous BBC interview said that while he is against hunting, more about that in my piece In The Wind, he doesn’t want it banned. Is he having a change of heart? Maybe I’d like to believe that we can find alternatives to protecting wildlife that doesn’t involve killing, while helping to stop poaching and the other factors driving species to extinction.

Will raising the status of the Lion and addressing the crisis we are facing it in this manner helps us save the species? I don’t think it hurts the cause to try. Ideally I would also like to see this type of recognition be extended to include all of the big cats (wildlife) who are also threatened or close to extinction.

Blood Lions

The ground breaking film Blood Lions airs on MSNBC tonight in the USA. This film will not be easy to watch I will tell you that right off the top. It is however one that needs to be watched if the world is to stand up to the legal, horrific and brutal practice of Canned Hunting. Please watch and share the link with others.

Catch the premiere of Blood Lions, tonight October 7 at 10pm ET on MSNBC

For other dates check the MSNBC Documentary Schedule

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Blood Lions will take viewers into the dark world of the canned hunting in South Africa. Image – Blood Lions on Facebook

With the help of Ian Michler, safari operator and environmental journalist and Rick Swazey, an American hunter, viewers will see inside the breeding farms where lions are bred to be killed. The chain of suffering starts with tourists who volunteer or pay to pet, play, and bottle feed Lion cubs. Once these cute cubs are too large for human interaction the tame and habituated Lions are sold to canned hunting facilities where hunters pay big money for an easy and guaranteed kill. The Lions are shot with guns, rifles and crossbows all in an enclosed area with no chance for escape, suffering greatly before they die.

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Image – MSNBC

“Our film is an exposé,” says Blood Lions director Bruce Young, “most of the lions exist in appalling conditions, exploited at every stage of their lives. Even the people in South Africa do not know that lions are being bred for the bullet – and that it is totally legal. We want to show the world what is going on, who is involved, the impact on the animals and how much money is being generated by this industry.” – MSNBC

MSNBC web extras must watch online!

Volunteering in South Africa’s lion breeding facilities learn what you are really supporting.

Lion Bone Trade The demand for lions bones in China has created a new market for lion breeders in South Africa.

Want to help? Sign and share this petition to ask REAL GAP to Stop Sending Volunteers to Lion Breeding Projects in South Africa.

In The Wind

Tomorrow we celebrate World Lion Day which is a day that organizations and individuals, help bring awareness to the importance of the Lion and Lion conservation around the world. With the death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe still fresh in the minds of many including my own, it seems that this could be a turning point not only for Lions but for wildlife in general. When the news broke of Cecil’s death I expected that there would be backlash, but what I couldn’t have predicted was the flood of world-wide rage that was unleashed. The storm was fast and furious, like I have never seen and the last few weeks have been a roller coaster ride especially in the media. I have found myself suffering from Cecil burnout and not because I was tired of hearing about him, but because I am tired of hearing about the killing of wildlife.

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Social media has definitely helped educate a whole new generation of people about trophy hunting, canned hunting and how close Lions are to becoming extinct in the wild, however the story of Cecil seems to have really brought people together from all over and in a way, his death may be the wake up call the world needs. What many haven’t realized is what happened to Cecil  is happening to other Lions in Africa and the senseless and cruel slaughter of wildlife for sport is a major contributor to Lion mortality along with habitat loss, poaching, human wildlife conflict, canned hunting, the Lion bone trade, and prey loss.

On July 1, 2015 an American Dentist from Minnesota, Walter Palmer, paid approximately $55,000.00 US to kill Cecil a star tourist attraction and the subject of an 8 year study Oxford University scientific study by WILDCRU. Cecil was intentionally lured from the protected areas of Hwange National Park, baited with an animal carcass, shot and wounded with a bow and arrow on private land, and tracked for 40 hours before being shot and killed. Bow and Arrow hunting is extremely brutal and cruel, Cecil would have suffered greatly before he died.

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Cecil was 13 years old when he died – Image Brent Stapelkamp

Cecil was then skinned, beheaded and the GPS collar worn by him destroyed in an attempt to cover up the killing. Walter Palmer had gone through all the “legal” channels procuring professional guides who had secured all the proper permits and, to his knowledge believed the hunt was “legal”. The term legal gets thrown around a lot and lets remember just because something is considered legal it doesn’t make it right or ethical or acceptable.

Following the discovery of Cecil’s death two Zimbabwean men hired by Walter Palmer Theo Bronkhorst, a professional hunter with Bushman Safaris and owner of the land that borders the park, Honest Trymore Ndlovu were arrested. The Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Authority stated: “Both the professional hunter and land owner had no permit or quota to justify the offtake of the lion and therefore are liable for the illegal hunt.” The men face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, however it is unlikely they will serve this time. Bronkhorst, as does Palmer, maintain he did nothing wrong and was unaware Cecil was part of a study, crying that the case against him is frivolous.

Cecil in his glory is captured by tourists on safari and appears relaxed around the vehicle. Viewing this make me think he was accustomed to people and therefore must  have been an easy target

Palmer who was previously charged for making false claims to authorities regarding hunting black bear he killed, may not face any charges depending on the circumstances. According to UK-based charity Lion Aid “it is legal to bait lions in Zimbabwe, and even to kill them using a bow and arrow outside of national parks during private hunting trips. Whether or not they’re wearing a radiocollar — Cecil was — also doesn’t matter.”

Many petitions circulating want justice for Cecil and call for Palmer to be extradited to Zimbabwe to stand trial. The White House is currently reviewing a petition which has been signed by more than 160,000 people. Since the US has an extradition treaty with Zimbabwe, there is a chance Palmer could be sent back to face criminal charges. If he will or not remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

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Walter Palmer poses with the body of a Leopard he killed with a Bow and Arrow

“Trophy hunters in Zimbabwe killed around 800 lions in the 10 years to 2009, out of a population in the country of up to 1,680. But it’s not just lions. Cecil, is just one of many animals sold for hunts. A 14-day elephant hunt in Zimbabwe is currently being sold online for $31,000 and includes the killing of one elephant. Buffalo’s meanwhile go for $14,600 on the same site.” – The Dodo

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Last know image of Cecil with Jericho – Image Brent Stapelkamp

Walter Palmer, a big game hunter, wrote a letter to his patients explaining his passion for hunting and his apparent regret for killing Cecil the Lion.  His apology for the most part fell of deaf ears as scores of protestors showed up at his dental practice and social media became the weapon of choice for the angry masses. #CeciltheLion #JusticforCecil #NoMoreCecils and #WalterPalmer began trending immediately along with photos of Palmer and his previous hunts. I don’t think the backlash was this strong when Melissa Bachman posed smiling over a dead Lion, but this time it was as if something clicked and the world was finally seeing trophy hunting for what it was.

Guests on a game drive with African Bush Camps – Authentic Safaris were treated with a sighting of Cecil’s cubs who are alive and well with the females of the pride.

Following Cecil’s death another male Lion Jericho, whom he shared a coalition and the pride with, was thrust into the spotlight when rumors of his death spread not long after Cecil’s. The media spit out stories so fast that it was hard to determine what was true, and already being in a very emotionally charged state over Cecil’s death people were in shock and disbelief that it could happen again. The rumors proved false, Jericho was alive and doing well. He was also taking care of the pride along with the cubs, who may have been sired by both himself and Cecil. The fears that another male Lion would kill the cubs, as often happens when new male Lions come in and take over a pride, were put to rest. The five cubs are safe for now and, as there seems to be a lack of adult male Lions in the area due to trophy hunting, Jericho may not face any new rivals anytime soon.

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Rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated – Photo of Jericho taken soon after verify he is doing ok – Image Brent Stapelkamp

An investigation is underway into an illegally hunted Lion that occurred on July 3rd (just after Cecil) which was thought to be the cause of the mix up and confusion over Jericho.  Hopefully the case of the nameless Lion will also get support as it should be a reminder that there are many Lions suffering the same fate as Cecil. Then everyone got another surprise. Another Lion was reported illegally killed back in April confirmed to be in the same area as Cecil, by Pittsburgh Doctor Jan Seski.

Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority quickly issued a statement saying that all hunting (including bow hunting) of lions, leopards and elephants has been suspended in the Hwange National Park area, this ban includes places around the park but does not include the entire country.

So is there any good news? It seems that at least one hunter came forward after hearing about Cecil and has had a change of heart. He says that he is hanging up his rifle.

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Courtesy of Animal Advocacy on Facebook

In the US four Democratic senators announced a bill called Cecils law or The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act. This would “extend current US import and export restrictions on animal trophies to include species that have been proposed for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.” The US Fish and Wildlife Service already proposed listing the African Lion as threatened but many have called for an endangered listing and complete ban on all import of Lion trophies into the US. The agency has yet to finalize the designation.

A Facebook community called Dentists for Lions based in Scotland has formed in support of Lions and is raising awareness and money for the charity Lion Aid.

The UN has called on countries to step up efforts to tackle illicit poaching and trafficking in wildlife amid global uproar over the unlawful killing of Cecil.

A petition calling on the US and EU to ban the import of trophies as well as to list Lions as endangered is going strong and can be signed here.

Most major Airlines with routes to Africa, are no longer accepting any trophies such as lions, elephants and rhinos from Africa. Although animals can still be sent by ship, or couriers, the bans will make it a little harder for hunters to get their trophies home.

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Having been on safari in Africa, I cannot even begin to determine what makes a person want to kill wildlife. I often wonder if any of these trophy hunters had truly spent any time, as you do on photographic safari’s, to just watch, admire and appreciate Lions or wildlife in general? What sort of disconnected, self-absorbed, sick, shallow personality propels someone to want to torture and kill an animal and then have the nerve to turn around and try to convince others that killing is for the good of the species? I will never understand how they stand over, or on, an animal they have killed smiling with a twisted type of satisfaction. I am going to guess that the killing makes them feel good? I smile to…when I look at the photo’s I have taken on my trips and guess what, none of the animals had to die in order for me to feel good or happy. I also know that the next person will get to experience that same feeling, and the next person after them.

Now, there are opposing views on this topic and, if you are following Cecil’s story you cannot avoid it. It’s the ‘Be careful what you wish for’ argument. This is based on the idea that banning trophy hunting is not the answer and it will do more harm than good. Brent Stapelkamp, field researcher with Oxford University’s WILDCRU, who has been following Cecil for nine years tells BBC News that he doesn’t want to see lion hunting ever again  because of the way lions react to it, but he doesn’t want it banned. Brent tells the BBC that “Hunting can be a valuable component to conservation. If a property has a hunting quota and that money comes back from hunting into the management of the land, it’s not going to be at risk.”  They say the greater threat lies in poaching, on a commercial level and at a local level by people who set snares to catch wildlife to eat.

Can trophy hunting really be sustainable and can it benefit local communities while preserving the species? Dr. Peter Kat of Lion Aid tells Europe Newsweek that many organizations do not really know how many lions there are in Africa in the first place “We estimate there are around 15,000 lions left in the wild, but I think there are far fewer…and until there can be independent surveys of lion populations in these countries where hunts are taking place. You cannot judge if something is sustainable if you don’t have the source numbers, and we know some countries will exaggerate lion populations, because lots of people in those countries are making money from these hunts.”

It is said that trophy hunting contributes large sums of money to conservation in Africa and local communities, estimated at $200 million annually,  but Research “finds that hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to communities living in hunting areas. The vast majority of their expenditure does not accrue to local people and businesses, but to firms, government agencies and individuals located internationally or in national capitals…expenditure accruing to government agencies rarely reaches local communities due to corruption and other spending requirements.”

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Surely the value and benefit of live wildlife out ways the value of dead wildlife. How many tourists would have flocked to see Cecil, Zimbabwe’s star Lion and how much money would have provided a continued stream of income? While there are clear challenges and complexities involved like poaching that need to be addressed, why not work on solving them. After all, if trophy hunters truly want to conserve why not donate time and money directly to local communities and the parks to help wildlife?

Despite the odds everything that is happening should give us cause and hope to find solutions to end killing for sport, and in the meantime maybe the Walter Palmer’s of the world should be made to pay financial restitution to the local communities robbed of their wildlife and potential future earnings. Considering that Lion numbers have and continue to decline even with trophy hunting, perhaps it’s time to admit their way of doing things isn’t working either.

Expressing our anger and disgust at Walter Palmer and those like him is OK, because what they are doing is inexcusable on every level, but it won’t bring Cecil or any other Lion back. How we use this momentum will be key to helping Lions, all big cats and wildlife in general going forward. By all accounts it’s not going to be easy and there is a lot do so lets hope people, countries and organizations can find common ground and not squander Cecil’s gift.

Finally, the response to the Cecil controversy varies and some think it will simply fade, Corey Kristoff, a hunter from Alberta tells the Calgary Herald that the public outcry will pass before long and “It’s just a bunch of people with loudmouths, and that will go away in a little bit…This will blow past, just like a fart in the wind.”  I actually beg to differ, I think the only thing that is blowing ‘in the wind’ is change.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit, co-owned by BBC Worldwide and the Natural History Museum, is a competition that showcases the best of the best when it comes to nature and wildlife photography. For a second year, the exhibit is being shown at the ROM in Toronto and I made sure to stop by this past weekend before it closes on March 22.

Last years exhibit was pretty spectacular and this years did not disappoint with photographers of all ages and skill levels from around the world showcasing their talents.

Some photos make an impact simply because they are visually stunning and others because they also relay a message, reflect the times we live in or show us where we may be headed. There are too many to mention here, but I will narrow down a few of my favorites starting with the Grand title winner Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols and his ethereal black and white piece The Last Great Picture.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, Grand title winner, Black and White, Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols, USA The last great pictureImage © Michael ‘Nick’ Nichols

Taken in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, 5 Lionesses part of the Vumbi pride are captured as they lay on a rocky outcrop called a Kopje resting with their cubs, exhausted after having driven off the prides two males.”  What makes this image even more poignant is that it would be the last time he would photograph them all together. A few months later he learned that they had ventured outside the park and that three of the five females had been killed.

Next is Finalist David Lloyd with his photo The enchanted woodland and I have to say the combination of Leopard and Yellow fever tree is captivating. Taken in Kenya’s Lake Nukuru National Park this is a perfectly timed photo of a Leopard looking as if he was just waiting to be photographed.

Among the finalists in the youth category I picked The watchful cheetah by Leon Petrinos ‘You can tell the animal’s feelings from the look in the eye, the way the fur lies and how the ears move,’ says Leon. He particularly likes portraits, he says, because ‘the animal’s feelings talk to you’.

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2014, Finalist, The Watchful Cheetah – Image © Leon Petrinos, Greece

Vanishing lions taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve by Skye Meaker another finalist in the youth category, gives us a picture with a strong message behind it. ‘I want the picture to raise awareness that lions are a vulnerable species,’ he says. ‘To me, this picture conveys the feeling that lions are fading from Africa.’  With fewer than 25,000 Lions estimated to be left across the continent, this young photography doesn’t realize how accurate his statement is.

Special Award: Wildlife Photojournalist of the year went to Brent Stirton from South Africa for his portfolio on how the lives of Lions are linked to humans in Bred to be killed which also highlights the practice of canned hunting. Hopefully having this appalling industry exposed through a mainstream exhibit will show thousands of people why the world has rallied to fight against it.

From the World in Our Hands category one of my all time favorites and finalist, Hollywood Cougar by photographer Steve Winter.

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Finalist 2014, World in our Hands, Steve Winter, USA,  Hollywood Cougar – Image © Steve Winter

For more award-winning images check out the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit online or in person when it comes to your city.

Victory For Lions In Australia!

I woke up this morning to read an email from Campaign Against Canned Hunting and had to share! Everyone who has been working to make this happen everywhere keep up the fight, I always said that all of us can make a difference. Let’s make this happen for the rest of the world! USA, Canada and Europe you are next! Happy Friday!

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Don’t be bringing your trophy heads into Australia anymore.

From the Herald Sun  March 13, 2015 7:01PM 

Federal Environment Minister and Member for Flinders Greg Hunt made the announcement at 6pm. The ban followed a campaign to end the importation of lion trophies by La Trobe Federal Liberal MP Jason Wood.

“Canned hunting is real. It exists. It shouldn’t exist,” Mr Hunt said. “It is done in inhumane conditions. It is involving things such as raising and then drugging and in many cases, baiting.

“I have signed an order to prevent the importation into Australia of African lion parts and remains. This order will take effect immediately.”

Mr Wood called the ban historic and said he hoped the rest of the world follow.

He thanked Ferny Creek’s Donalea Patman for bringing the issue to his attention.

“The practice of canned hunting is completely unacceptable,” he said.

“Australia has taken the first step, now let’s hope the rest of the world follows suit and says no to canned hunting.”

For the full article please read here

Global March For Lions

On March 13 and 14, people in cities around the world will once again bring awareness to the canned Lion hunting industry in South Africa. Last year was the first Global March For Lions (GMFL) and with 60 cities worldwide participating it was truly a historical moment, no gathering had previously raised awareness for Lions like the GMFL did.

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“Last year’s Global March for Lions created unprecedented public awareness world-wide about the plight of the lion. It was really extraordinary. During my almost thirty years fighting for the lion, never before I had I seen such a public outpouring of concern for the King of Animals. It was so heartening, and is making a difference. With this year’s demo we must build on this. The lion needs us like never before.” – Gareth Patterson, Author of My Lion’s Heart.

How the average person contributes to the canned hunting industry

For some it starts as a dream, traveling to Africa to volunteer on a conservation project  where the placement includes interaction with Lion cubs. Most of these placements, which can be found in South Africa, sell themselves to unwitting volunteers who think that they will be doing a good thing by helping raise, bottle feed, and play with lion cubs. Volunteers are told they are helping with “conservation” of the species and that when the Lions are grown, and thus to large to interact with people, they will ultimately be released back into the wild.

This could not be further from the truth

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Ask yourself if this looks fun or natural for these cubs?

Cubs, once able to feed themselves are turned into props used to provide photo and petting opportunities for paying visitors. There is nothing more unnatural to a Lion cub than being handled by humans all day long and being separated from their mothers. It is unhealthy, cruel, extremely abusive and exploitative. Most of these cubs are in very poor condition and are a product of FACTORY FARMING. These human-imprinted Lions have NO conservation value and therefore can never go back to the wild.

This industry is in it for money – there is no other reason

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The stuff of nightmares, the majority of these “projects” are commercial lion breeding farms that supply Lions for Trophy Hunting outfits – All Images – Global March For Lions Facebook

The reality 

Once the cubs are too large and dangerous to interact with people most end up in the canned hunting industry. The Lion cubs that were hand-reared by volunteers, used for photo-ops and habituated to people are then killed by trophy hunters. The Lions are baited, drugged, shot with guns, rifles and crossbows resulting in a horrible lingering death for the animal. All this done in an enclosed area with little or no chance for the lion to escape. Lions now an easy target, betrayed by humans that they had once trusted and grown dependent on.

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Big business. The majority of trophy hunters, who hail from the EU and USA, will pay well over $10,000 and sometimes up to $38,000 per kill

Breeding captive Lions helps wild Lions

  • Breeding of lions in captivity is NOT an important scientific necessity for the survival of Lions in the wild and it is certainly not a recognized conservation practice
  • To date almost NO captive reared Lions have been successfully introduced into the wild and, the gene pool in wild Lions is still sufficiently wild
  • Inbreeding is very prevalent in captive bred Lions and wild Lions are captured to breed with those in captivity to improve their genes
  • Luke Hunter (President of Panthera and someone who has worked on the conservation of wild African cats since 1982) and other experts recently published a paper demonstrating this “Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions – Panthera Leo in species restoration
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Captive breeding of lions involves very significant unregulated welfare issues

  • Stress to cub and mother caused by separation at an early age
  • Habituation to human contact, abuse and in some cases lack of adequate nutrition (to keep them small)
  • Restriction of freedom to express appropriate behavior and protection from fear and distress
  • Finally, Lions are sold into the canned Lion hunting industry
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Cub petting kills, make the connection

Many volunteers who take a placement at these facilities may not always be aware of what they are getting into. However some will defend placements even when presented with the facts, denying and refusing to believe that the cubs they once “played” with have since been sold into the canned hunting industry.

Thankfully, some return from their experience wanting to prevent others from making the same mistake. I urge you to read www.claws-out.com a blog where volunteers recount their time at Ukutula Lodge in South Africa. A cautionary tale, these volunteers are now  advocating against the cub petting and canned hunting industry.

Where have all the Lions gone?

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It is impossible for all these Lions, let alone one, to find a proper and reputable placement.

Believe it or not Canned Hunting Is NOT illegal in South Africa

Campaign Against canned Hunting (CACH), a South African charity working to stop canned lion hunting in South Africa, has had no success yet in changing the law. However since the industry relies on hunters being able to take their trophy home CACH, along with UK-based charity Lion Aid,  are working on changing the laws so to ultimately prevent  the importation of lion “trophies” into most countries like the EU and the US. This makes it less desirable to trophy hunt an animal when you can’t take the trophy.

Please visit the Global March For Lions Facebook Page for a complete list of cities and events this year, check back here for more updates and be sure to share this information to help educate others on the status of the African Lion.