No One Left Behind

Animal Defenders International (ADI) recently hosted the Canadian premier of Lion Ark, a documentary that takes a raw and intense look at ADI’s work in Bolivia to track down and rescue all animals being kept in illegal circuses. Despite the serious nature of the film Lion Ark is truly a feel-good story filled with hope and, it gives us a look at what can happen when humans decide animals should no longer be exploited as an ‘act’ under the Big Top.

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Q&A session with ADI’s Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips following the screening. Image – Teddy Ing

Prior to the screening I sat down with ADI’s Rescue Team Leaders and founders Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips to talk about the film, circuses, their rescue work and why ADI will never leave an animal behind.

For those who don’t know, what is Lion Ark about?

JC Lion Ark tells the story of the rescue of 25 lions from Bolivia following ADI’s undercover investigation of the suffering of animals in circuses and a campaign to get animal circuses banned. It shows how we worked with local wildlife officials and police to seize the animals once legislation was passed in Bolivia. The law gave circuses a year to stop using animals and for those circuses that defied the law, there were 8 of them, ADI went in to seize the animals.

TP It’s a film people shouldn’t be afraid to watch it – come to see it, cheer on the lions, and also enjoy some moments that will make you laugh out loud. It shows what can be achieved when people pull together to help animals and sometimes in the least expected places.

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With regards to the ban Jan says that “Bolivia got there first because President Morales wanted it, he made it clear.” Family of eight lions, crammed into a circus cage. Image ©ADI

What was the emotional and physical impact like on those working on this rescue?

JC There was the stress of long journeys over mountains, jungles and various circumstances and, there was tension around rescuing the animals, worrying would the circus find out that we were coming and would they escape. Then when you finally see the animals themselves it’s just an enormous sense that we have to get them, we have to save them there can be no failure. That’s the biggest emotion we had. It’s a lot of pressure and we have to be determined that we do not leave these animals, there is that one chance that if we leave without them we have lost them forever.

Are there any lions in particular whose story stood out during the rescue?

TP Interesting that during the making of the Lion Ark we filmed all the lions everyday and we were able to see how they changed. With these large groups of lions you got to see their different personalities and you noticed how they were like people’s dogs and cats, there were playful ones and timid ones. There was a lioness called India and she had never been out of a tiny cage, it was the size of a single bed and she was frightened to leave it. Many of these animals were frightened to leave their cage so we thought she was going to be the ‘story’ but slowly this incredibly aggressive lion called Colo Colo emerged as the hero. He tried to attack us and was defiant to the end but we all warmed to him because he’d never been broken by the circus, so it’s especially poignant when he goes free at the end.

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A solitary lioness, India, looks on as the rescue team negotiate her rescue. Image ©ADI

It’s been a number of years since the rescue, can you say that your work in Bolivia is done?

JC In terms of animal circuses in they are done, Bolivia has a ban on all domestic and wild animals in circuses. When circuses try to enter the country with animals then they won’t be allowed to take them into perform. Where there have been circuses trying to travel with animals we are pleased that the government is determined to enforce the law to ensure there are no animals performing in a circus.

TP ADI tries to rigorously enforce these laws like we did in Bolivia, and because of public support others saw these bans could be successful, we then did the same thing in Peru and have begun operations in Colombia. By going after all the circuses we do not leave the country until we have rescued every single animal so it’s a really clear messages – ‘if you come with wild animals in your circuses to Peru or Bolivia they are going to seized by ADI. So it completely removes the incentive of trying to get around the law, in Peru we tracked and chased circuses for almost two years. Anyone who slipped through the net we found and then rescued every single animal.

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On February 16 2011, in a historic world first, Animal Defenders International flew the 25 rescued lions from eight circuses in Bolivia to their new home at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. Image – Daily Mail UK

Why do you think audiences have been so receptive to Lion Ark?

JC Lion Ark was done differently, we wanted to tell the story of the animals and make them the stars, the film is really a mixture of facts and genuine emotions. We also wanted people to get up close and personal to feel that they had a direct connection with the lions on the screen. You see the animals as we found them and you see the joy of the animals as they start to become individuals again. They are no longer terrified shells and they develop into lions – I think that’s what grips people. We are just an ordinary group of people who wanted to make a difference for animals and we chose not to go the route of looking for a celebrity to do a voice over, we decided to make the film raw and I think that is also part of its appeal.

A example of ADI’s commitment to ensure no animal is left behind is the rescue of Mufasa the mountain lion in Peru. What was that like?

JC We had seen him years earlier during the investigation and what was interesting on that particular day is that we had gone to get other animals but didn’t realize he was there. It was the truck that we recognized as Tim and I had seen him in the truck years before when he appeared in our investigation. We didn’t know whether we would find him, but when we drove up to pick up the other animals we realized it was him so Tim and I jumped out, stood in front of and behind the pick up to stop him from getting away.

TP You are going into remote and challenging places in terms of surveillance with these rescues. Mufasa was the last circus seizure but they almost got away, we were there from about 8:30 AM to sunset and that was when we got the animals out. It was a really aggressive confrontation, we had the riot police turn up, but we would not leave until we had those animals no matter what abuse or threats were held against us, our team will hold the line. Mufasa, who was a very old man by then, had the final part of his life back in the forest where he belonged. Sadly he passed away eight months after the rescue, however he did so back in the forest and not on metal in the back of the truck.

Why do you think it is important to highlight the rescues of big cats in circuses?

TP All animals suffer in circuses, whether wild or domestic – lions, tiger, camels, zebras and so on suffer appallingly from the deprivation. There seems to be more violence inflicted and more frustration of movement for some of these wild animals, but all animals suffer when they are living in temporary accommodations or when moving from place to place whether in the U.S., Europe or South America – all the animals live the same.

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Kimba, dumped by the circus in a zoo, where he lived alone for 11 years. The ADI team had to to knock down a wall and cut through the bars to rescue him. Image ©ADI

The violence and some of the suffering we uncover goes unseen, for example when a lion gets aggressive or is being trained they are usually coming at the person front first. They get hit with metal bars and get broken teeth (almost all the lions we rescued in Peru had their teeth smashed) and those teeth are never treated, so some of these animals sit there in their cage in pain for life or, if the teeth become infected it can kill them. Another lion had been beaten about the head and was brain-damaged he had no sense of distance – so there is a huge amount abuse of these animals.

It is important for people to get behind getting rid of all these animals from circuses and not favor certain species as there is no evidence that any animal suffers more or less than others, camels are treated poorly, lions and tigers live metal boxes on the back trucks and they are regularly beaten. Just recently one tiger got out in Georgia and was shot, that’s their fate if they get out or become to aggressive, or if they just behave in a minor way as nature intended then they will be probably be beaten or possibly killed.

What are your thoughts on the Ringling Brothers circus?

JC  They have had every opportunity to change their acts. ADI did a study where it showed that in an average two-hour show the animals occupy about 15 minutes  – it is very easy to change to human acts. So Ringling Brothers had the choice, they have known their audience is going down, they knew they could replace the animals with human acts and the audience would like that because they disapproved of the animals, but they chose not to. They would rather close than move with the times.

Can you talk about the incident that took the lives of two of the rescued lions?

JC ADI took 33 lions to Africa at the tail end of our Columbia and Peru rescue, nine from Columbia and 24 lions from Peru. We wanted all of these animals to go back to their natural habitats wherever possible and we were pleased to do that for all except the Tiger Hoover who had to a go a lovely sanctuary in Florida. The 33 lions went to Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa where we have been caring for them ever since. Tragically, we suffered a recent devastating loss when a few months ago poachers broke into the sanctuary and killed two of the lions José and Liso.

This is something we have been tracking and we told the South African government when they made their decision to continue the lion bone trade, that it would paint a target on the heads of all of captive animals including ones in sanctuaries. There’s been a huge increase this year in attacks in animals held privately in sanctuaries because they look like easy targets and although sanctuaries have been increasing their security it is a huge risk for all of us.

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José and Liso napping in their enclosure at Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in South Africa

What precautions are you now taking at the sanctuary?

JC We swore that we that when they killed José and Liso that we would be relentless in our pursuit of the criminals and, we have continued to work with the strong police investigation currently going on. We have increased our security massively, it costs about $7,000 a month on physical security and that’s men with guns. If we sense the threat is increasing and getting closer to us we have improved electronic security at various levels and men will sleep close to the lions. We want people to know that there are two important targets, the first is, José and Liso are going to get justice by ensuring we catch and prosecute the people responsible and second, we have absolute top security for our lions to make sure everyone else is safe. That has been our focus for the last two months.

Since the poaching incident is ADI rethinking South Africa as a safe haven for lions?

TP There is simply not enough homes for these animals around the world. If we say these animals don’t got to Africa  – they aren’t going to be rescued and will end up dying in circus cages. The reality is this is where these animals live and we must get used to protecting them in their natural habitat otherwise it’s going to be used as an excuse to continue to plunder animals from the wild, put them in western zoos and say they are going to be safer.

There were no reports in the media between 2014 and 2015 of any lions being killed this way in private sanctuaries, then in 2016 there were 18 attacks, this year there have been 22. It’s a massive escalation and is already spilling into other countries. We must catch these people and we must boost the security, but we cannot throw our hands up and simply say we will send them all to the U.S.

People must think of how important these very big scale rescues are, they are not symbolic and just rescuing worst cast, we are trying to eliminate entire industries and make sure it doesn’t happen again. If we are going to do that we need as many homes open to these animals as possible and you cannot beat their natural habitats if available.

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“A number of animal protection groups have been using South Africa as a sanctuary location for animals, we cannot close that door we must find a way to make it safe.” Image ©ADI

JC We have to take on the poachers, the animal protection movement has to now stand up and say we are going to take them on and crush poaching. We must also work to crush the markets for wildlife products like lions bones, Chinese medicine and trophies. All markets must be closed in the both Western and Asian countries.

How can people get involved in helping circus animals?

JC  The best way is to go to ADI’s Facebook page and take the actions we suggest – send emails, write letters, educate, speak to legislatures, use social media, reach out to others in school or at work and get them on board. If everyone works together and supports ADI in one way then, we can save these animals. It’s about the numbers of people speaking up and deciding enough is enough, as well as taking steps to ensure governments protect these animals.

TP If people can support us financially it makes a huge difference. We are essentially running a global sanctuary and these large-scale rescues mean no one is left behind. It’s a huge challenge and ADI is a small organization where we empty entire countries, we did that in Peru with people donating $10, $20, $30 at a time. If people can host a small or large fundraiser, adopt one of our animals or donate it makes a massive difference. If they can do that we will go out to rescue these animals and enforce these laws.

ADI has launched, with the support of Moby, the José and Liso anti-poaching fund to make sure the poachers are caught and to create wider anti-poaching initiatives. If people can support this initiative, we can ensure all funds will go to directly to this fight.

 Lion Ark is now available on DVD


Wildlife conservation in Africa, like elsewhere, is vast and complex, as many people are just starting to learn. For those of us who reside outside of the continent it can be confusing, frustrating and at times devastating. The intense scrutiny it has come under lately has exposed us to some of the challenges that must be overcome, as well as showing us we still have lots to learn.

Awareness, with regards to the status of lions and all Africa’s wildlife, has been steadily building and the call to action has never been stronger but, how do we continue to move forward and, what is it we are not seeing? Even though the movement to change the system is getting stronger it sometimes can feel like it’s one step forward and three steps back. Recent events this year have forced all us to face the demons behind wildlife conservation and by this I mean the corruption, the ties to trophy hunting, the fact that money trumps science and ethics, and, the realization that even though we want the killing to stop it doesn’t look like there is an immediate end in sight which for most, including myself, is one of the toughest pills to swallow. While I have and will always be against sport hunting I have come to understand that it is going to take a collective shift in our way of thinking about wildlife in general and a massive effort by everyone to back that shift up. This also means we will need to get a better grasp of the complexities involved in conservation in Africa by looking more closely at the way it is viewed and operates from the inside. Along with what we are already doing, this could be a useful approach that may help us better understand how to help. Of course it doesn’t mean we are always going to like what we see, or that we will necessarily always agree with the ideologies, but if it enables us to get a better handle on the underlying issues to ultimately do better for lions, for wildlife (and put a stop the the killing) then maybe it’s something we embrace rather than ignore.

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So with more questions, than answers, floating around in my head I reached out to Safari Guide, Naturalist and Zimbabwe resident Rob Janisch to obtain his insights and opinions on conservation in Zimbabwe and Africa, in a post Cecil world. There are many sentiments you will find familiar, points you may agree with and others you may strongly oppose, either way this is intended to provoke thought by demonstrating that the solutions we are searching for are more complicated than we think.

From the perspective of a resident and Safari Guide, what is the state of wildlife conservation presently like in Zimbabwe and has it changed much over the years? 

RJ Firstly, it is important to give you a bit of background to Zimbabwe.  Whilst the country has hit the headlines in the past 15 years largely as a politically unstable, unsafe and ‘unfriendly’ country, the reality on the ground is very different to the picture portrayed by the media.

Zimbabwe has had some very challenging years since 2000, and has suffered some major economic and political turns. However, as with many aspects of life in Zimbabwe, the results of many decades worth of sound management, excellent legislation, good infrastructural development, and high levels of education prior to 2000, has left the state of wildlife conservation in the country today in a much better state than it could have been given the circumstances.

So, has the state of wildlife conservation in Zimbabwe changed since the heydays in the early 1990s?  The answer is yes, unfortunately, somewhat towards the negative in much the same way as is being witnessed across other countries in Africa, often on a much bigger scale elsewhere. For example the dark cloud of corruption at all levels that is leading to what-once-were good environmental controls, governance and legislation being flouted for ‘the quick solution’ with immediate financial returns.

Having said this, Zimbabwe’s parks and wildlife estate land (protected areas managed by a state-governed authority) is still relatively well-managed on the whole, especially in areas where innovative co-management plans with independent conservation agencies have been put in place such as Gonarezhou National Park, in partnership with Frankfurt Zoological Society.

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Gonarezhou National Park – Image Frankfurt Zoological Society

The main issue facing conservation in Zimbabwe is exactly the same number one issue facing the state of conservation on the continent of Africa as a whole: widespread corruption and poor governance with respect to wildlife and ecological crime, both in the public and the private sector.  However, there is still a semblance of order, legislation and control that exists under the layer of corruption and, if ways were found to eliminate or drastically reduce the corruption it would bode well for Zimbabwe and its wildlife in the long run.

Was the news of Cecil the lions death really news considering hunters from the US have been taking lion trophies long before this story broke?

RJ Cecil’s story is an interesting one and, he was just one of the many illegal, unethical and ‘dodgy’ hunts carried out in Africa this season by the sports hunting fraternity. U.S. hunters as well as others from across the world, are involved in this sort of thing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis in many different countries all the way from the U.S. to Mozambique.

In Cecil’s case corruption and bad governance of an industry, which had allowed for an unethical hunt to be carried out in an area where such a hunt is in theory illegal, is directly to blame. Who was responsible in terms of the actual hunters both in the U.S. and in Zimbabwe is not really the issue here, despite social media’s best attempts to point fingers at Palmer or the Zimbabwe professional hunter or whoever else is villain of the month.

Unlike the trade in illegal ivory or rhino horn, the sport hunting world is not a case of demand driving supply. For example, the total number of lions that the sports hunting trade puts on quota (i.e. allowed to be hunted, whether the permit was attained legally or not) across Africa per year is not a very significant number when compared to the number of lions lost through habitat destruction due to land turned to agriculture, or the number lost to snares aimed at more appealing bush-meat (protein) source, or even the number of lions lost to diseases linked to human interference, such as domestic dogs and cattle-borne diseases.

Bottom line is the news of Cecil’s death due to an unethical sports hunt was not the real issue.  Neither was the hatred and vitriol that arose due to the ‘crime’ being committed by an American dentist.  No, the issue really doesn’t even extend just to the sports hunting fraternity although, obviously the system there does need some serious re-structuring as we are seeing in countries like Botswana and Kenya to great effect.

The issue that should be raised and shouted from the rooftops as a result of Cecil-gate, is that lions in Africa, and almost all other species within the continent, are under huge threat from the impacts and negative effects of too many people; poor education programs; not enough governance and control; and, unchecked corruption at almost every level of the ‘protected areas’ authority in Africa – an authority that also happens to include the sports hunting trade as one of its constituents.

The death of Cecil seemed to be a wake up call for many people around the world, in terms of local reaction was it business as usual?

I think locally it might have actually had an opposite effect, I think people in Africa were perplexed that so much energy and noise was created in the naming and shaming of the dentist for his role in the Cecil killing with little regard for the bigger conservation picture that a story like this could have helped focus our collective lenses on.  In Africa, we don’t get to see mass consciousness at work that often, like we saw with the social and mainstream media response to Cecil.  It’s a pity that this mass-energy could not have unlocked the message that really did need to get out.  Instead of the ‘hang the lion killer from our own backyard’ response, I guess we were hoping more for a headline that read “Cecil’s death is just the beginning of a universal movement towards better understanding of and, action against conservation issues across Africa”. Business as usual will continue with respect of wildlife crime and ecological degradation in Africa as well as across the world, as long as the world is not actively aware of it and, vehemently and incorruptibly against it.

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Cecil and his pride in Hwange National Park in November 2012 – Image The Telegraph

What do you see as some of the key issues facing wildlife in reserves/parks in Zimbabwe and Africa?

RJ Some of the key issues facing wildlife in Zimbabwe and other areas of Africa are mostly not very new or different from those we have seen in the past. This includes the massive slaughter and trade in both wildlife parts of species alive or dead, unchecked bush fires, over-fishing and illegal logging. The weather, in the form of climate change, is another factor damaging ecosystems across Africa, and off its shores, in the form of unscheduled periods of drought, floods and rising temperatures.  Areas we used to know as very wet are now semi-arid, and many of the exquisite coral reefs off Africa’s east coast are showing signs of ‘over-heating’ due to higher sea temperatures. The human species, who gives very little back to the planet we rely on for our entire existence, has a hand in contributing  to all of the above by way of our ever growing population. I will refer to a few examples of this:

  • Early on the demand for Ivory and rhino horn in China and SE Asia was still high, but not at the levels it is now with more people ascending to the middle class wanting items of status such as ivory in their homes.
  • In the 1800s and early 1900s when European hunters traipsed through Africa killing anything that moved but, we were still only talking about a couple of hundred people, at most, with basic muzzle-loaded weapons leading the sharp-end of the species slaughter wedge.
  • Rising populations later meant a need for more meat for protein to feed everyone, more space required for agriculture to grow crops, more water required, more fires, more fishing, more mining, more of everything that directly affects wildlife conservation in the continent.
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A government official picks up an ivory tusk to crush it at a confiscated ivory destruction ceremony in Beijing, China, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

  • Before a reserve like Hwange, Cecil’s home ground, was first set aside and protected not 100 years ago, there were very few people living in the immediate area and so wildlife was free to move from neighboring Botswana to the waterways of the Zambezi during the dry season, pretty much as they pleased.  Huge herds of elephants for example made the migratory journey of several hundreds of miles every year to find water and food which helped to reduce the impact the huge populations had in the region.
  • Interestingly, as human population grew around the area in the first half of the 20th Century, the Hwange reserve was proclaimed and the wardens went with a system of artificial water wells to try to entice the animals, especially the elephants, to stay in the reserve. This was done to encourage the elephants not to wander out towards the Zambezi looking for water or to graze and risk being killed or bumping into the ever-expanding communities of people and their crops nearby. In time, all the animals, including thousands of elephants, made the reserve their home but, over 50 to 60 years we have seen massive devastation of vegetation around these artificial water points due to an overpopulation of mega-herbivores. Basically one area is having to cope with the density and impacts that was previously spread over an area four or five times the size.
  • As communities grew, reserves and parks were now having to be set aside to keep wild animals safe from humans complete with the myriad of challenges that this creates in itself like access to water, anti-poaching, fire, etc…Any of those ‘protected’ animals who wandered out of the park boundaries faced the risk of either being illegally poached for meat and the likelihood of bumping into a ‘legitimate’ sports hunter who wanted a trophy.

So it is a double-edged sword all borne from the fact that there are too many people and not enough wild spaces to cope with them all. Ironically, these same communities surrounding the national parks and reserves like Hwange, were subsequently given hunting quotas, to benefit from (mostly), as part of an innovative natural resource management program named CAMPFIRE. Unfortunately it was the unethical trading of such quotas that resulted in the unlikely scenario that a lion could be hunted where it was when Dr. Palmer arranged his hunt earlier in the year.

Tourism has been proven to bring in more money than trophy hunting, however there are many organizations and individuals that still support it as a means of managing land and helping local communities. Why do you think this is still the case?

RJ Sports/trophy hunting is an incredible tool for managing large areas of land that are not as appealing or attractive to tourism… IF it is carried out ethically and under strict management and monitoring. An example of this is in one of the bigger conservancies in south-central Zimbabwe which has one of the highest wildlife densities, including rare and endangered animals such as rhino and sable, in Africa.  The area is operated by a handful of professional hunters with decades of experience and who seem to have a sound conservation and land management ethic.  Due to its high wildlife numbers, such an area could also be used for non-hunting (photographic) tourism. However this is generally the exception to the rule.

Most hunting blocks are large areas of mostly low-density wildlife and, if hunting were to stop on these (by legislation, public pressure, low demand), it is doubtful the areas would be suitable as tourism areas as, access to pretty scenery and good relaxed wildlife is essential for the latter.

There are good examples of former hunting areas turned to tourism and eventually paying for themselves and doing a great job at creating a sustainable conservation management system such as Great Plains’ Selinda Concession in northern Botswana, and Lugenda Wilderness in northern Mozambique but again, these are sadly the exceptions as they require massive investment and a long time frame before the tourism is able to cover the operating costs of the block.

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Just encouraging more and more people to travel for photos, not hunting trophies, to Africa is not going to cut it sadly. There needs to be a healthy, long-term and significant investment in the land if it is to be transferred from hunting to tourism, AND THEN the need for a higher demand in tourists traveling to these places.

As an example, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe itself does not receive enough tourists annually to fill all its tourism camps, let alone raise enough money, as a national park body, to support the ongoing operations within the park.  So the neighboring hunting blocks (like the one Cecil was hunted on) are never going to be able to attract the tourism required or raise the funds necessary to manage these areas as tourism conservation areas without hunting currently. Until that time the funds and governance are in place to move more hunting blocks away from hunting and towards tourism, sports hunting – if well-managed, controlled and ethically conducted – is one of the better options still available to manage these blocks.

So the focus should not be on removing all hunting, but rather on cutting out all corruption and bad-ethics from the industry to promote a cleaner, fairer, more sustainable system where special animals, like the large tusked old elephant bull recently shot in southern Zimbabwe by a German sports hunter, and other species like Lions or black rhino for example, can be awarded specially protected species status and not be able to be hunted.

The theory behind cleaning up and making the sports hunting industry more sustainable with better conservation practices is not as difficult as it seems.  Certainly not as difficult as the thought of stopping or removing hunting all together and then watching as these large tracts of wild land are invaded by people for farming, tree cutting, burning, poaching of wild animals that are then replaced with domestic ones, etc… If there was enough money and demand, I would be all in favor of turning all these areas to tourism or just plain conservation areas, but that simply is not viable or possible at this stage.

Predators like lions have proven benefits to ecosystems so losing them can have major consequences ecologically speaking. How do Safari guides like yourself engage and educate people about the value of protecting wildlife like Lions?

RJ You’re so right about lions – they are a keystone species in the ecosystem that hold significance if removed, would have major and devastating impacts on the rest of the ecosystem.  The same can be said of most of the apex predators such as sharks, lions, tigers, jaguars, hyenas and polar bears. As a guide and naturalist, the issue of engaging people and educating them about the importance and value of protecting Lions, and other wildlife, has to be a 3-pronged approach.

Firstly, we have to engage with the people on the ground, the communities, those most likely to come into contact with lions as well as other wildlife, in conflict and in fear.  They need to be educated on the importance of lions in the greater system, secondly we need to engage with the people of influence in the world – tourists, hunters, anyone who is able to use their money to influence lion conservation for the greater good. The key here is tourists who take guided safaris with me whose visit to see the lions, and to take photos of them, will fund the ongoing protection of the land and species themselves.

Finally we have to engage with the local authorities which include the government, and parks bodies, and chiefs and all who have influence over decision-making regarding land use, management of wild lands and wildlife.

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What do you think guides and tour companies based in Africa can do better to support wildlife and help local communities who are directly linked to the survival of the animals?

RJ Educate. Educate.  Educate.  It’s the old adage: give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  TEACH a man to fish sustainability, and in line with the planetary limits, and to reduce the number of mouths to feed in his family through careful family planning, and his kids’ kids will eat forever. Also, they need to lobby more as a unified group against the corruption and bad governance at the higher authority level. After all, it is taxes and revenue from these tourism streams that is paying those same authorities’ salaries.

What organizations in Africa stand out to you as helping by encouraging local communities to co-exist with wildlife?

RJ There are a couple here, but the best community-based conservation project I have come across in all my travels across Africa is the Niassa Lion Project or Mariri Education Centre in Niassa Reserve, northern Mozambique.  The Kenyan conservancy approach is a brilliant and proved method of combing indigenous practices, socio-economic support and wildlife conservation.  Great Plains Conservation have a very interesting model and one that seems to be getting good results, especially in Botswana.  Finally, African Parks and its various partners such as WCS and Frankfurt Zoological Society, are doing a brilliant job at bringing back wild places and trying to conserve those few remaining biological hot spots.

The face of tourism, along with Africa is likely to change in the coming decades, how do you see your role as a guide changing?

RJ I already have seen it change in the past 15 years as the world moves along at an exponentially rapid pace. Social media and the internet has driven this into a new realm. Safari camps and lodges must look at, and in many cases are, changing their approach from one of high profit business for the benefit of the principals of that particular business, to a conservation tourism model that sees any and all funds raised through tourism or donations being put back into conservation projects and initiatives.

So too, the safari guides of today are not just “jeep jockeys” showing folks from overseas local wildlife to get photos, and hopefully a good tip at the end. No, the safari guide of today is the ambassador, a role model, who can influence and inspire. Often guides are also the conservators themselves, as in the Kenyan conservancy model, within the world of wildlife conservation.

I already see more of guides these days presenting talks to influential audiences across the globe on important conservation topics – not simply to attract people to travel with us, but because I think we realize that we have to be a major part of the conservation revolution that seeks motivation, funds and support to protect and conserve all wild places, for without these places there will be no “we” to worry about.

What are your personal recommendations to help first time or return visitors to Africa get the most out of their trip while still contributing in a good way?

RJ This question is a little like the topical “green” question.  Sure you can use local guides, places, products and travel less to countries that have unethical conservation practices and corruption, however, if we are to make a REAL difference in wildlife conservation ultimately we have to somehow be part of the greater movement that attacks the root causes of the problem and not just fights the symptoms with seemingly quick and easy wins.

If that visitor is planning a safari to Africa – book with someone who will at least expose you to the realities of conservation in Africa, amazing and tragic. Make sure you visit innovative projects and operations that are trying to address the bigger picture and not just ‘green-washing’ with a few Facebook posts and empty promises.  Most of all, expose and inspire your kids and young people to the natural world as it should be, not as it is heading.

What do you hope for the future of wildlife in Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa?

RJ That it survives… seriously.  But also that people might soon discover, on mass, that they are not the top-dog in a human centric hierarchy in Nature, but are in fact a rather fragile primate that is hanging out on a very wobbly branch in the greater tree of life. Only then will wildlife anywhere be able to continue along its way up the branches of the same tree of life.

As a father what values are you trying to instill in your children for wildlife and places?

RJ If my little girls are a) exposed to wonderful wild places and things, b) brought up to care for, respect and be passionate about them, c) understand the bigger picture of the genius of Nature with her cycles, life lessons and inspiration, and, d) able to inspire others around them to have the same passion and care for their planet… then I will feel we’ve done a good job at instilling conservation and planet-friendly values in them.

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Any Final thoughts on lions or other wildlife that you would like to address?

RJ I think what is critical with all these sorts of things is to not focus on individual species like Lions or rhinos, or individual conservation cases only like Cecil.  We will never get anywhere like this. Activism demands a holistic approach to exposing the masses and the authorities to the issues at hand.  I think it is key for us all to realize that the concept of cause and effect is huge here, like a small butterfly wing flutter that can have huge ripple effects down the activism chain.

As such, I really would encourage anyone who cares deeply for the planet to think carefully before diving into this or that petition, social media frenzy or similar response to any one conservation issue. Fundamentalism has yet to work as a system. Tipping mass consciousness is what is required, and this requires lots of hands involved in the bigger picture – reducing human impact on the environment through cutting back on our population and the methods we employ to live on this planet.

The current models we use will not see us surviving much beyond the Lions and elephants on this planet, we all need to change our ways. That is more important than chasing down oddball dentists from Minnesota.

A huge thank you to Rob Janisch for contributing to this piece and sharing his insight and thoughts on wildlife conservation in Africa. Rob is a specialist nature guide, a co-trainer with biomimicrySA and he operates private guided Safaris in Africa, Into the Wild with Rob Janisch. Rob can be contacted directly at

Ghost of the Mountain

Panthera uncia, or the Snow Leopard, is a gorgeous and rare cat that lives in the mountains of Central Asia. I have long been fascinated with these mysterious and other worldly cats who seem to exude a sense of intangible wisdom and calm, perhaps this is a direct result of having evolved to live in such a harsh and remote environment. The mysterious quality is well earned as they are very hard to photograph and study. In fact, most of the photos taken of Snow Leopards are done with strategically placed camera traps, making images like the one by wildlife photographer Steve Winter, extremely breathtaking and precious.

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One of the most elusive of the big cats & rarest photographed – Image Steve Winter

Snow Leopards are known for their mystical beauty and elusive nature, and because of this they have been called the Ghost of the Mountains.  Part of their allure is their fur, which is luxuriously beautiful and practical at keeping them perfectly warm and camouflaged  in the rugged and unforgiving landscape in which they live and hunt. While Snow Leopards are found in 12 countries approximately 60% of the cats habitat can primarily be found in China.

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The snow leopard has white, yellowish and smoky grey speckled fur with dark-grey to black spots and rosettes. Image – Snow Leopard Trust

As with all cats they have physical characteristics that suit their environment, and their features do more than present a pretty picture, they serve a purpose. The round short ears help reduce heat loss and the wide and short nasal cavity heat the chilled outside air before reaching the lungs. “In the Himalayas, they are usually found between 3,000 and 5,400 meters above sea level. In Mongolia and Russia, these cats are found at lower altitudes of 1000 meters. At the Snow Leopard’s typical elevation, the climate is cold and dry, and only grasses and small shrubs can grow on the steep mountain slopes.”

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Snow leopards prefer the broken terrain of cliffs, rocky outcrops, and ravines. Image –  Steve Tracy, Courtesy of the Snow Leopard Trust

Other physical features that make Snow Leopards suited for its extreme environment include: extra big paws that act like snow shoes; a long tail that is used for balance and also keeping warm on cold nights; short front limbs and long back limbs which are used to help the cat propel itself up to 30 feet at once and, very strong chest muscles to help it climb mountains for prey.

Since Snow Leopards are hard to study researchers have relied on camera trap technology which has helped them understand more about the cats than ever before. However, their ghost like presence has still made it impossible to determine exactly how many exist and, estimates have put this endangered cat at only 3,500 – 7,000 individuals. Snow Leopards are listed on CITES Appendix I which offers the highest level of protection and means all international trade that is primarily for commercial purposes is prohibited. They are also legally protected from hunting by national legislation across most of its 12 range states and, in 2009 Afghanistan gave the cats legal protection by listing the species on the country’s first Protected Species List.

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The Snow Leopard Trust has documented one cat who walked 27 miles in just one night.

While Snow Leopards tend to be ‘crepuscular’, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk their behavior has noted to be influenced by the presence of humans. It has been found that were there is less human population they are active in the daytime and when there are more people nearby their territory, they become ‘nocturnal’ or active at night.

The cats communicate over vast distances either by marking, which is done by scraping the ground, or spraying urine on ridges and cliffs along the mountains. Solitary animals, once mating season is over the male and female part ways leaving her to raise the cubs until they reach about 2 years old at which time the cubs will leave to look for their own territory. A Snow Leopards territory can be hundreds of square km and overlap but, researchers believe that the amount of space each cat needs may differ between the landscapes and availability of prey.

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Snow Leopards from the Zurich Zoo – Image Flickr

While Snow Leopards can purr, mew, hiss and growl they cannot roar instead, they are known to make a puffing sound called a ‘chuff’ just like Tigers. The ability to roar does not exist in Snow Leopards due to the physiology of their throat, or structure of the hyoid bone.  To hear what the chuffing sounds like check out this video of a Snow Leopard from Big Cat Rescue.

What is also important to note is that these cats are not aggressive towards humans and, there has never been a confirmed Snow Leopard attack on a human being. Instead they have a reputation for running away rather than defending themselves if disturbed. Like all cats, they may however become aggressive during an encounter between two males or if a female’s cubs are being threatened.

While Snow Leopards may not be the most photographed of the big cats, never before seen footage has been released in time to celebrate International Snow Leopard Day which is marked today October 23. The WWF has released photos and video to coincide with a report that highlights the fragile connections between Snow Leopards, People, Water And The Global Climate. They say that a third of the cats habitat is at risk from climate change.  Images in this video were taken in Nepal and Mongolia.

As with all our big cats human activity is a major threat to the survival of this species, this includes poaching for their fur, retaliatory killings for livestock loss, loss of habitat and prey, mining activities and lack of resources to protect the cats. If that wasn’t enough, climate change will now add another immediate threat to the survival of Snow Leopards. WWF-UK tells International Business Times that “The Himalayas region will face a major crisis if we choose to ignore climate change. Not only do we risk losing majestic species such as the snow leopard, but hundreds of millions of people who rely on water flowing from these mountains may be affected.”

The leading organization on these cats the Snow Leopard Trust, founded in 1981, is at the forefront working diligently to save them while offering ways for people to help Snow Leopards by either donating, volunteering, shopping or becoming a partner. They also have a wealth of resources about their work and research available online including their report on how Climate Change could speed up the Snow Leopards demise.

The Snow Leopard Trust has put together this wonderful two-part infographic fact sheet which can be shared and downloaded from their site, it is a great educational tool to inform others of this amazing cats plight and help them understand why they are worth saving.

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On The Edge – Global Tiger Day

July 29 is International Global Tiger Day, marked to bring awareness to a very critically endangered species.

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The Crisis

  • Over 97% of all wild Tigers have been lost
  • It is now estimated that there are less than 3000 left in the wild
  • There are more captive Tigers, like Tony the Truck Stop Tiger, in the USA than in the wild


  • Deforestation, climate change, loss of prey, contact and conflict with humans and hunting are but a few factors taking a toll on Tigers
  • The biggest threat to Tigers however is from poaching for their bones, skins and various body parts used in TCM

Wildlife crime is extremely organized, violent and it is booming”

  • “The illegal tiger trade is growing because of a claim in Far Eastern culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine that tiger parts can cure human illnesses. This is scientifically unproven. Claims include that consuming a tiger eyeball will help cure epilepsy; or that tiger bone wine will help cure arthritis.”
  • “The demand for tiger skins and tiger bone wine is booming as wealthy businessmen buy these goods to prove their wealth. These products are also used as bribes for promotions within corporations.” – source TigerTime

“…China has created a demand that is unlikely to cease. Today there are tiger farms, where pelts and bones are collected. While tiger farms have many additional issues based on the inhuman conditions farm tigers are kept, these farms fuels the demand of tiger products, wild or not.” – source

In the News
Recently China admitted in public that “it permits trade in skins from captive tigers”. It was huge and the news rapidly spread around the world. Read the BBC News article here if you missed it.

While all this is very daunting, I will be the first to admit, it does not mean we give up. Here are some way you can help:

  • Sign the AVAAZ petition to Close all Tiger Farms in China
  • Go to TigerTime, find your country contact listed and email your CITES Rep asking them to support an end to Tiger Farming in China
  • On Facebook follow organizations like End Tiger Trade and Tiger Time
  • Educate by sharing the information on your social networks

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