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.

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.

Draw My Life – Tiger Edition

Tony the Tiger explains to viewers what life is like for captive bred tigers and other big cats in this informative and creative video by Big Cat Rescue

Big Cat Rescueis the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats. They are home to about 100 lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts. The sanctuary is working to END the trade in wild cats.”

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A truck stop is no place for a tiger – Tony the Tigerphoto source Animal Legal Defense Fund

Tony’s Story – “Tony is a 14-year old Siberian/Bengal tiger used as a roadside attraction at Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete Louisiana. Tony is an example of the serious problem of privately owned tigers in the United States whose numbers exceed tigers left in the wild. Tony’s owner, Michael Sandlin, has bought, sold, bred, and exhibited tigers for over 20 years.” – Free Tony the Tiger

The Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to work on having Tony freed and sent to a reputable sanctuary like Big Cat Rescue where he can live out his remaining days with the proper care he needs in a peaceful and natural environment away from noise, fumes, concrete and exploitation for profit. To date Tony still resides at the truck stop.

There are only about 3,000 wild tigers left and according to Big Cat Rescue there  are between 5,000 to 10,000 tigers, lions, leopards and more in US cages. The majority of these cats live in miserable roadside zoos, backyard breeder facilities, circus wagons and pet homes. Some will even be sold into the canned hunting industry where wealthy hunters pay to shoot them in a confined space.

What does the US and Global laws on private ownership of big cats look like?

Stop the cycle

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You have the choice NOT to participate in this abusive cycle

  • Never pay to touch or have your photo taken with a tiger or lion cub
  • Don’t attend circuses, fairs, or attractions that feature wild animal shows
  • Don’t purchase items made from wild animals, such as furs and rugs
  • Don’t partake in local “delicacies” made from wild animals, such as tiger bone wine
  • Only visit sanctuaries that are accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

A crucial step in preventing wild animals like Tony from being exploited is getting laws enacted to ban private ownership of exotic cats.

Throwback Thursday Lion Around

Throwback Thursday – Lions doing what Lions do best. All photos taken in Moremi Game Reserve – Okavango Delta Botswana

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Over the past 50 years Africa’s lion populations have plummeted from over 200,000 individuals back in the 1960’s to fewer than 25,000 today.”

Time is quickly running out for Lions and one day soon all that may be left are images like these ones. January 27 is the final day to ask the USFWS to list the African Lion as endangered and to ban importation of all Lion trophies into the USA, please take a few minutes to leave your comments The online form can be found here.

The Father Of Lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of the death of George Adamson, also know as Baba ya Simba, the Father of Lions. George along with his wife Joy provided my introduction to African Lions when I was a child and reading Joy’s books, starting with Born Free, would change my life forever. The moment I read about Elsa the Lioness I wanted to visit Africa to see Lions, a dream that I have had a privilege of living a few times over the years.

The passion for these big cats has never ceased, although it is now channeled into bringing awareness to the fact that Lions are on the verge of extinction, and that we must act fast to save them. Times have changed much since George’s day and I wonder how he would feel to see his beloved cats so close to the edge.

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George Adamson and Elsa

On 20 August 1989 George Adamson was murdered in Kenya, East Africa, by Somalian bandits when he went to the rescue of his assistant and a young European tourist in the Kora National Park.”

For a lovely tribute to George please visit Ace Bourke’s Blog. Ace Bourke along with his friend John Rendall had purchased a lion cub who they called Christian in the late 60’s at Harrods in London, a year later they brought Christian to Kenya where George Adamson rehabilitated the young Lion back to the wild.

World Lion Day

World Lion Day is a day meant to bring awareness to and help educate others on the plight of this iconic species. I thought who better to discuss Lions with than my friend Rob Janisch, awesome safari guide, lodge manager, camp owner and Lion aficionado. I first met Rob and his amazing wife Jos, while visiting Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, where they had been tasked with setting up the first private camp in the park, Explore Gorongosa.

For me picking Rob’s brain was a perfect way to share the perspective of someone who has grown up with Lions pretty much in their backyard and clearly has an understanding, the experience and a passion for this magnificent species. Or, in Rob’s words “...get me talking about lions and I just can’t shut up.”

I hope readers enjoy this informative perspective and that it inspires all to get involved by sharing, educating, supporting and fighting for Lions, today and everyday.

What are your earliest memories of wildlife growing up in Africa and what made you choose to work as a guide in the tourism industry?

RJGrowing up in Africa meant a lot of holiday and weekend trips into ‘the bush’ – something that nurtured a lifelong passion and interest in all things natural.”

Baby, Africa, Lions, Rob Janisch, Jos Janisch

Rob and Jos’s little cub Lula Blue

“Family outings  during my wonder years meant that I got to experience some great and truly wild places in the company of my siblings and parents, which probably made it a bit more special. The first time I can recall being ‘moved’ by a lion was during one such trip where we came across a pride of lions lazing all over a dead giraffe – cubs, big males, beautiful females, the whole lot. I’m not sure if it was the sight of all those velvet clawed beasts, or the hideous smell of the dead and rotting half-giraffe underneath them… but it certainly was a sighting that stuck in my memory. Since having a young daughter of my own a few years back, I have tried to expose her to all things wild and wonderful too – her first safari was at age 3 months, and her first lion encounter was at 41/2 months in Gorongosa National Park. I studied along very different lines from what I am currently doing in the guiding and safari industry in Africa, but there was always something drawing me back into the bush and now I have to say I have the bug – I am hooked and I blame it all on my parents dragging me along on all those bush holidays all those years ago! “

What was your most memorable sightings of Lions and where it was?

RJ ” There have been many – more than I can even remember sadly.  But one of the most memorable, would have to be a series of events that took place in Gorongosa,  a place with significant emotional attachment to me, and since lions there were at one time practically extinct it was great to have an experience that could only be described as ‘wow’. It was a particularly lazy start to the safari with little much happening, however, once the sun had dropped off a bit, we came across some signs of lion activity and soon tracked down a personal favorite lioness of mine – a brave soul I used to call Tripod for she had lost one of her hind legs in a snare some time before.  She was a beautiful lioness, and her disability seemed to make her all the more appealing.”

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My Hero! Tripod in the park, close up of her leg.               Image -Tori Dileo

” We watched her for a bit before realizing that she was interested in something not far away – turned out there was a young, newly matured and independent male in the area who was one of the new kids on the block.  It was almost as if he had come to check up on the old dear, who we had not seen for some time and who we all, perhaps like the young male lion, feared dead.  We spent some glorious moments enjoying them, the tenderness and care they showed for each other was quite special.  However just before nightfall, something stirred him (perhaps a roar from afar?) and he upped and said his farewells, leaving Tripod lying sphinx-like in front of us.  By the time we had extricated ourselves to follow the male, he had managed to bump into a small herd of elephants. The elephants did not care much for this young upstart and chased him off, tail between the legs, before turning their attention on us.  We fled in different directions, eventually catching up with the lion again as he started a purposeful and ritual display of territorial marking and roaring – no doubt communicating with whoever or whatever had drawn his interests away from the female in the first place.  He strode down the track in front of us – the new king, so very proud of his loud voice and growing Mohawk mane. “

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Lioness and Elephants! That deserves a drink! Young male – Image Tori Dileo

“Quite some time after dark we eventually left him and headed for our camp where we enjoyed a dinner under the stars around the campfire.  Around dessert time though, we were rudely disturbed by the now-very-close roaring of a lion and we swiftly moved towards the vehicle to catch (under spotlight) the same male striding right through the camp we were in, heading towards the distant roars of his companion.  Lovely Ms. Tripod, the pair of lions under the setting sun (with customary Gin and Tonics on our part of course), his sad departure, the elephant chasers, the regal roaring and the final dinner disturbances back in camp all added up to a truly unforgettable experience.”

What was it like to work in and be part of Gorongosa’s NP restoration project and see some of the first Lions come back to the park after years of civil war?

RJ “This was something quite special for sure. Here was a park that was once referred to as the ‘Serengeti of the South’ – a place that had thousands of animals and that was on the bucket list of A-list celebrities like astronauts and Hollywood stars. Then in the space of 16 violent years it was reduced to a vast empty stretch of floodplain and forest; most of its animals slaughtered for meat, skins, tusks and medicinal purposes. Many animals were made locally extinct – rhino, cheetah, jackal, leopard, tsessebe to mention a few.”

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Image – Rob Janisch

“Others, like the huge herds of buffalo, zebra and wildebeest were reduced to a few handfuls of animals hiding in the thicker forested areas. Lions too were hit hard – mostly presumably for sport or maybe because people did not enjoy the combined threat of human enemy and feline predator to deal with whilst on patrol in the bush during the war years. In 1995, once the first census was carried out after the war years, 6 lions were counted and assumed active in the park, this from a population of a few hundred in the 1970’s. When we first started in the park some 12 years later, this number had increased to around 40-50 animals, and I distinctly remember the sense of excitement when we encountered adult lions who we were not familiar with – ‘new’ arrivals, not offspring of the original lions, but migrants coming in from surrounding areas where they were perhaps now feeling the pinch of increasing human population and hunting pressure. Slowly these new entries mixed and matched with some of the ‘old timers’ and more and more today we are hearing of litters of lion cubs being born in the park. There is a dedicated research team for the lions of Gorongosa now, with collars and other modern tracking equipment aiding in the ongoing restoration of the park and its wild inhabitants, especially keystone species such as the lion.”

In your opinion why are people so fascinated with Lions and why do so many of us feel compelled to be close to them?

RJ ” I think it stems from back in the days of the caveman… Seriously, our human anatomy and physiology has changed little since the last Ice Age when, after glaciers melted and receded, large area of plains and savannah were created resulting in big herds of herbivores spreading into these more open spaces, and as such the pursuing carnivores got bigger and more powerful.  At this stage, the predecessors of modern lions rose to prominence in these areas and of course came into contact with prehistoric man who at this point, being something of a carnivore himself, was now also enjoying the benefits of the bigger herds of prey and wider open spaces for his hunting exploits.  Man now encountered beast (lion) as a competitor for the same prey – and vice versa.  This competitive nature (fear/fascination/fancy) was thus hard-wired into our psyches at that stage and without any other major cranial or cerebral changes in man since, we have this primal nature stuck deep in the most primitive areas of our brains.”

Lions, World Lion Day, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, conservation, Rob Janisch, wildlife

Image  Rob Janisch “Our greatest fears in life (heights, lions, etc) are also very often our greatest attractants “

“Anyone who doubts this just has to see their involuntary physiological response when they hear a lion roaring at close range to be reminded. A modern-day anthropology lesson on this exact subject can be made with the Hadzabe – an ancient tribe still eking out an existence in northern Tanzania with traditional methods of hunting and gathering.  These folks make a regular habit of pinching meat from antelope and the like killed by lions in their area.   Walking up to a pride of lions on a dead zebra, chasing them off, and walking away with a leg of zebra with nothing but a bow and arrow for protection is pretty thrilling.  It also shows that the competitive conflict over resources between man and lion is not a recent one given the age of these ancient tribes and their customs.  Although not the only indigenous tribe to practise this art (I have personally witnessed it in Botswana with the river bushmen too), it certainly is a feat of extreme bravery (stupidity?) and pretty awesome to witness all in all.”

What are your top locations/parks for seeing Lion?

RJ  “Nothing (did I say nothing) beats the central areas of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania for absolute density and volume of lions. As a traveler to Africa wanting to experience the raw beauty and magnificence of these creatures, a drive around the Serengeti’s Moru Kopjes area and onwards to the Barafu area to the east of that is simply out of this world. Obviously the better-known and well visited Masai Mara, Kruger Park and Okavango Delta are well-known for great lion viewing, as are the harder-to-get-to, but just as worthwhile Ruaha, Katavi and Kafue areas. Then the desert lions of the Kgalagadi in Botswana are some of the more beautiful (not to mention big) lions around with their distinctive black manes and dark hairy elbows.”

Lions, World Lion Day, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, conservation, Rob Janisch, Travel, Photography,wildlife

Image – Rob Janisch

“I guess my favorite place to watch lions is certainly on foot in Mana Pools in Zimbabwe along the Zambezi River. Here in the dry season, one is able to spend quality time viewing all manner of lions, mostly doing what lions do (i.e. killing buffalo) in some of the most spectacular settings in Africa. My final two places are not so much known for large densities of lion but for their relative ‘unknown-ness’ and both have really interesting lion stories. Firstly, Niassa Reserve in the north of Mozambique is a vast wilderness area with no fences, roads or developments of any major scale – lions here are as they have been since who-knows-when, wild and somewhat nervous of humans. Then Liuwa Plains in western Zambia is an emerging wildlife destination with a very interesting lion story. Google it, or better yet – come see it for yourselves!”

Lion numbers in Africa have and continue to decline drastically, it is estimated there are less than 25,000 left on the continent. From your perspective what are some of the key factors contributing to the decline?

RJ “There unfortunately is only one key factor leading to these sad but true statistics: too many people putting too much pressure on lions and lion habitats. Lion habitats and ranges have shrunk drastically as a result of increased human developments in these areas (agriculture, commercial/urban, hunting, etc) and of course the increased livestock densities needed to sustain all these humans. Many people believe that there are other factors like disease and genetic deficiencies to blame, but I don’t buy that for a second. As with so many of the Big Issues out there facing the word at the moment – the cause seems to be the same: too many people living out of sync and out of harmony with the rest of our ecological system. This leads to reduced habitats and movements of key species such as lions, and we get the massive drop-off in population numbers we see today. The only solution is better lion habitat preservation and reduced human impacts on these areas and their four-legged and furry inhabitants.”

What effect would losing Lions have on tourism and  eco-systems?

RJ ” In terms of the multi-billion dollar safari tourism industry in Africa, losing this iconic flagship species would pretty much have as much of an impact as Bono losing his voice in the middle of a U2 concert… it would bring the curtains down on this incredible show in a way that the near-extinct rhino just simply cannot compete with.  No 2 species scream African tourism dollar more than the lion and the elephant – both now on the critical list and dropping fast. Ecologically – one could argue the exact same point: in terms of big mammals of the African ecosystem, lions and elephants are 2 of the most important.  Losing the apex predator (lion) would set off an ecological domino effect the consequences of which we are really not able to fathom at this stage... a bit like predicting what the world would be like without electricity, or ice-cream, or worse: chocolate.”

Why is it important for local communities to be directly involved in and benefit from Lion conservation?

RJ ” Mainly for the reason I mentioned above why lions are so under threat… the people living in and around the lion habitats (local rural communities mostly) are the same ones who are growing in population and pushing further and further into the lions home ranges, driving cattle, goats, crops and other developments right into the heart of these wilderness areas. A lot of these areas are the same areas used for safari tourism, a major economic driver for the people and communities of these regions. If these folks are not able to see the benefits of lions to them and their livelihoods, or more correctly: if they are not able to see how much they stand to lose if the lions all disappear, than we are facing a long uphill battle. “

Lions, World Lion Day, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, conservation, Rob Janisch, Travel, Photography,wildlife

Image – Rob Janisch

 How can Lions, and other big cats, benefit from Ethical/responsible tourism?

RJ “Doing tourism ‘right’  is one way of trying to spread the message both ways down the communication channel – local communities, and potential international donors. There is a great program initiated through a number of responsible tourism operations in Africa that falls under the umbrella term ‘Lion Guardians’ and it is aimed at educating and informing local communities about the benefits of lions to them and their futures. The program aims to help educate people how to live WITH lions in rural areas adjoining wilderness and also aims to provide compensation for stock loss to lions, and other innovative strategies to improve the sustainable nature of the complex relationship between local communities, high-value tourism operations, and of course the resident lions themselves.”

How will World Lion Day be marked in your country?

RJ “I know that there are a number of activities revolving around lions this weekend in Zimbabwe – my home country.  Mostly these relate to schools and kids who – without sounding clichéd or cheesy – are the ones who most need to be celebrating such a day and getting a better understanding for this awesome and extremely important species as well as their role in the bigger picture of which we are just minor players really. I am personally going to be celebrating World Lion Day in my favorite Mana Pools National Park here in Zimbabwe, hopefully getting the chance to share it with some furry feline friends!”

Lions, World Lion Day, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, Africa, conservation, Rob Janisch, Travel, Photography,wildlife

Image – Rob Janisch

I really feel that the future, and indeed the present, scenario for lions is a microcosmic story of the world in general. We live in a world gone mad. We have done so since man first decided he was top of the triangle, rather than somewhere dotted along the spider web of life.” – RJ

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Rob and family

Rob works as a private guide in his beloved Africa and would love to host anyone interested in seeing and learning more about lions on a once-in-a-lifetime African safari – for more see robjanisch.com.

Don’t Pet The Cat

While volunteering in South Africa many years back I had the chance encounter to hear Chris Mercer of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting speak. I was aware of Trophy Hunting, but what Chris spoke about was almost to terrible to be real, it was the dark world of Canned Hunting.

A huge part of the industry is where the volunteers come in. Lions are bred, the cubs taken from their mothers and sent to facilities where volunteers pay to bottle feed, pet, play and interact with them. For some, an opportunity to do all of the above under the guise of volunteering and conservation may be tempting, however what most don’t realize is once the cubs are too big for volunteers they end up in canned hunting facilities.

Volunteering  –  it’s not about “you” it’s about “them”

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The end result for these cubs is ultimately death, at the hands of hunters. Volunteers play a key role in the fate of these animals.

Facebook group Volunteers in Africa Beware has formed to expose the places and organizations that support canned hunting and Lion breeding facilities. It is an excellent resource for anyone who is thinking of volunteering with animals in South Africa. They have compiled a list what to ask and do before you commit to a placement.

QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE VOLUNTEERING
– Do they have cubs regularly?
– Are volunteers allowed to pet and raise the cubs?
– Where is the cub’s mother?
– Why is the cub not being raised by its mother?
– What happens to the cubs when they grow up?
– Do they keep all the animals and cubs forever?
– Do they sell or trade lions? If so, with whom?
– Do they release animals back into the wild? If so, ask for proof that shows when and where these releases have happened and that they follow an ethical release process. (Note, lions are never released back into the wild!)
– Do they allow interaction between the animals and the public/volunteers? Why?
– Are they part of a breeding program? For what purpose?
– If they breed tigers, are they part of the International Tiger Stud books? Ask to see proof.
– What happens to the animals they can’t keep?
– How is the project contributing towards education and conservation?
– Are they a not for profit organization? If so, ask for their NPO number!

TIPS TO REMEMBER
– Captive-bred lions serve absolutely no conservation purpose. So do not believe it if you are told they are breeding to safe-guard the future of wild lions or to ensure good genetics. It’s simply not true.
– NO genuine conservation project allows cub petting or walking with lions or swimming with tigers. EVER!
– No genuine conservation project breeds captive lions. Their lions are on contraception or de-sexed to prevent breeding. There are already too many captive-bred lions!
– Do not believe it if they tell you lions are being released back into the wild. They are not. Ever.
– Just because it is called a “sanctuary” or “rehabilitation centre” or “reserve” does not mean they actually are these things. Sanctuaries keep all their animals forever. Rehabilitation centres rescue injured animals and release them back into the wild. And reserve doesn’t mean much… There are hunting “reserves” out there too…
– Many unethical projects hide behind “research”. Ask what exactly is this research? Which institutions support this research? Ask to see recent published articles and findings from the research. Most of them will not be able to provide this. Be very careful of lion breeders using research as a defense!
– There are lots of tiger breeding facilities in South Africa. Almost none of them are using genuine pure-bred tigers which means those tigers serve no conservation purpose. Only pure-bred tigers are listed in the International Tiger Studbooks and are part of official tiger breeding programs.
– If they say they trade with other reserves, sell to reserves only or only to “people with valid permits”. Ask which reserves. Do the animals stay at these reserves forever or are they traded on again from there? Remember many of these places sell to the canned hunting industry and the canned hunters and buyers have “valid legal permits”. So don’t be fooled by this. It’s a way breeders mask that their lions are sold to hunters because they don’t sell directly to them. Rather they sell to someone else and then that place might sell to hunting outfits. Ask for specific details!
– Lion breeders do not want you to know the truth: the vast majority of those cubs and lions end up as hunting trophies and they breed those cubs so volunteers will pay to raise them. Their bottom line is profit, not conservation. They will lie or ignore questions they don’t like you asking and they are very good at this!

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ASK QUESTIONS, DO RESEARCH and COMPARE PROJECTS BEFORE YOU GO! And if you are still in doubt, check the good, bad and ugly list of projects or contact them.