Saving Africa’s Dappled Beauty

On my trip to Africa last year I had the amazing fortune and privilege to see a handful of leopards which are unbelievable in person with their relaxed, enigmatic, graceful beauty even in the extreme heat. I will be posting more photos of my trip at a later time but wanted to share this one of a lovely young female from Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She had just had her Impala stolen by the famous resident one-eyed male known as Kataba – more on him later as well, who was sitting in a tree not more than five feet from her!

Leopard, Panthera Pardus, Africa, Zambia, South Luangwa National Park, Endangred Species, South Africa, Big Cats, apex predator, ban trophy hunting, wildlife photography

Right now Panthera pardus needs your help, they have been over-hunted and persecuted to such an extent that South Africa has extended the ban on hunting them into 2017. This means there is a zero quota which has stayed in place since last January. While it doesn’t protect them from illegal hunting, retaliatory killings, poisoning, poaching etc…eliminating at least one form of mortality is a decent step. Leopard numbers are not known and to continue to allow these animals to be killed for sport is just not acceptable.

How you can help

Until midnight on January 30, 2017 the USFWS will be taking comments on leopards. We are asking to protect them from both hunting and the trade in their body parts. What the leopard needs is a reclassification to an Endangered status. If you could take a few minutes to visit the link and leave comments based on the following below.

Please try to modify with your own words but include some of the scientific facts and references as the USFWS will only consider comments if they include this important information. You may leave your comments with your name or as anonymous. Just click the blue ‘Comment Now’ button on the upper right corner! We urgently need more comments before the deadline – please share!

I strongly support the reclassification of the Leopard (Panthera Pardus) to Endangered Species. I support this for the following reasons:

  • First, scientific data shows that leopards are the most persecuted cat species in the world and that there is a major lack of data on the actual number of leopards remaining. Camera trapping surveys conducted during a study period indicate that leopard population in Southern Africa is declining rapidly and at a very concerning rate.
  • One of the major causes of leopard mortality, trophy hunting, can be stopped immediately. It is known that trophy “off take rates” are exceed and that corruption in the release of permits for trophy hunting occurs on a frequent basis making hunting these big cats for sport simply unsustainable.
  • Along with Trophy hunting there is illegal hunting, trapping and snaring, poisoning, killing for skin, legal destruction, farm livestock protection, revenge killings all pushing leopards to the brink of extinction. Leopards are also victims of Climate change and drought, which has an impact and threatens the leopard population worldwide.
  • Leopard habitat has greatly decreased which also threatens the leopard population worldwide; this creates conflict with growing agriculture, livestock farming and urbanization. Fences and fragmentation of the leopard habitat will in turn reduce the reproduction rate of the species.
  • Unreported and illegal killing of leopards is widespread across Southern African countries all of which have inadequate legislation and poor control to persecute illegal killings and manage the leopard population.
  • Another growing problem is the illegal trading of leopard parts – like with other big cats the trade is not adequately punishable or discouraged by the countries where the leopard is an indigenous species.
  • Finally enforcement is weak, incompetent, under-staffed and dysfunctional. Conservation departments are simply unable to monitor a particular elusive species such as leopard.
  • For these many legitimate reasons I am asking that Leopards be immediately reclassified as an Endangered Species and all hunting and trade of this highly imperiled species cease.

For your reference I am providing the following references:

  • Kahler & Gore, M.L. 2005, Local Perceptions, Human-Wildlife conflicts in Namibia
  • Minin-Fraser-Slotow-McMillan, Understanding the preference of tourists for big game species. Implication for Conservation, 2013
  • Nadal &Aguaio, A review of the Economic Analysis of wildlife trade, 2014
  • Richardson-Loomis, The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species, 2009
  • Ripple-Estes-Beschta, Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores, 2015
  • St John-Keane, Identifying indicators of carnivore killing, 2012
  • Swanepoel-Lindsey-Somers, Extent and fragmentation of suitable Leopard habitat in South Africa, 2013
  • Thorn-Green-Scott, Characteristics and determinants of human-carnivore conflict in South African farmland, 2013
  • Wilson-Spaeth, Governments are not doing enough to stop wildlife crime, 2017…/governments-are-not-doing-en…
  • Cameron, Bustling trade in illegal wildlife products at Johannesburg market, 2016…/watch-bustling-trade-in-illegal-…/
  • EMS Foundation Comments to the Department of Environment Affairs/Leopard Trophy Hunts…/EMS%20Foundation%20Comments%20on%…

Blood Lions

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

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

For other dates check the MSNBC Documentary Schedule

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

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

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Image – MSNBC

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

MSNBC web extras must watch online!

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

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

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

Circus lionesses recovering in South African game reserve

Wonderful rescue of 2 Lionesses who spent eight years performing in a German circus. Thanks to the Born Free Foundation they will experience as close to a natural life as possible now. Please avoid any circus that uses wild animals and ask others to do the same.

Dear Kitty. Some blog

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Two rescued female lions find new home in Africa

22 January 2015

Following years of abuse in a circus in Germany, two rescued female lions put their paws onto African soil. Sisters Maggie and Sonja were rescued by the Born Free Foundation and its partners, their new home Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape.

From Wildlife Extra:

Two lionesses born to circus life get first taste of freedom

Maggie and Sonja have spent their eight years of life performing in a German circus

After eight years in captivity in a German circus, two rescued lionesses are settling into their new home at the Born Free Foundation’s Big Cat Rescue and Education Centre at Shamwari Game Reserve, South Africa.

Maggie and Sonja spent the first eight years of their lives making regular appearances in the circus, performing for the crowds…

View original post 490 more words

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”

Lions, Ethical Tourism,  World Lion Day,Global March For Lions, Endangered, Extinction, Big Cats, Africa, South Africa, Canned Hunting, Trophy Hunting, Ban imports of Lion Trophies, USFWS, conservation, poaching,

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.

– 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!

– 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.

Wisdom Wednesday Quote

One of my favorite quotes came to mind after reading an article that the South African Government released a statement saying Canned Lion Hunting is “legitimate” and that we should “set aside the emotion” and reconsider it. If you aren’t familiar with the practice of Canned Lion Hunting check out my post on the Global March For Lions which was a world-wide initiative to raise awareness of this practice.

 “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 Lions, Global March For Lions, Campaing Against Canned Hunting, Ban Canned Hunting, ban trophy hunting, bigcats, South Africa, save lions

 For more information on the practice of Canned Hunting, how you can get involved and help please visit Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)


Book Review: My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke’s Story

First published by Penguin Books South Africa in 2012, My Life With Leopards – Graham Cooke’s Story, by Fransje van Riel was a much anticipated read for me, and as soon as it became available online I ordered it, I must admit it sat on my shelf for a while before I could get to it…practically screaming at me to pick it up. What drew me to this book initially, other than the obvious, is that other than Joy Adamson’s Queen of Shaba – The Story of an African Leopard, I am not aware of many other instances where a wild Leopard cub has been raised and released successfully back into the wild.

My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke's Story, Africa, Leopards, Big Cats, South Africa, Zambia, Fransje van Riel, South Luangwa Valley

The story begins in the private Game Reserve of Londolozi, South Africa May 1993 where 22 year old game ranger Graham Cooke is assigned to take care of two 6 week old leopard cubs who had been born into captivity in Zimbabwe.

While the means by which the cubs were secured may not be ideal, this soon becomes unimportant as you read this very personal, passionate and beautiful story. The cubs, one male (Boycat) and one female (Poepface) are entrusted to Graham to be rehabilitated back to the wild once old enough to fend for themselves. Together they embark on a unique and very special journey and for Graham it would be one that changes him forever.

My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke's Story, Africa, Leopards, Big Cats, South Africa, Zambia, South Luangwa

Graham with the cubs after a morning walk –  Image My Life with Leopards Book by Fransje van Riel

Graham took his responsibility of caring for the two cubs very seriously, and without a doubt loved and cherished their lives and the time they had together. He demonstrates an extreme amount of patience, understanding, respect and kindness towards these amazing and would be potentially dangerous predators never forgetting that his ultimate goal is to ensure they stay wild enough to one day return to the wild.

Grahams work with the cubs is not easy at first but his perseverance and gentleness allows him entry into their world and slowly he learns to communicate with them understanding their needs and behaviors. Along the way he learns the cubs unique personalities, Boycat the more relaxed outgoing of the two and Poepface the more reserved, and you see the cubs trust in Graham develop in wonderful ways, in turn this bond opens up a world of experiences and insights on leopards for Graham.

Finally the cubs are moved to Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley, the place where Graham makes final preparations to let his cubs go forever.

My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke's Story, Africa, Leopards, Big Cats, South Africa, Zambia, South Luangwa

Poepface – Image from My Life with Leopards book by Fransje van Riel

My Life With Leopards is a great read, it is powerful story of a bond between human and animal and the trust they share. The story is filled with highs, lows, humor and “wow” moments, it will leave you with a unique perspective on an experience that only a few individuals have been blessed with. It is also a reminder that nature is amazing and at times very unforgiving, it truly chooses no favorites.

I found myself turning the pages wanting to know what was coming next, and I admit at times getting choked up and teary eyed. Having been fortunate enough to have visited the South Luangwa Valley, many years after this story takes place, I wondered if any of the Leopards I saw there were the descendants of Grahams Poepface.

My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke’s Story is on my Favorite Cat Themed books  list and is available online from in traditional Paperback or for Kindle. If you love the big cats, Leopards and wildlife be sure to pick this book up.

April Fools Day

The African Lion is heading for extinction. Sadly this is NO April Fools joke. The Global March For Lions on March 15, 2014 called on the South African Government to ban Canned Hunting, and now we are waiting on a decision from my neighbors to the south.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to make an announcement on whether or not they will list the African Lion as “Endangered” and ban importation of Lion Trophies into the US, which accounts for about 55% of all of the South African Lion Trophies. The US therefore plays a key role in the fate of these animals.

USA Trophy Hunters in Africa – Monsters of Death and Destruction  by Chris Mercer is a highly recommend read. It is an insight into trophy and canned hunting, the regulations of the industry, propaganda and the connection to the Lion bone trade. It is also a plea to the US to step up and help save Lions.

Lions, Africa, canned hunting, Endangered, US Fish and WIldlife Service, trophy hunting, South AfricaHere is how you can speak up for Lions today – Get Tweeting and ask the US to help protect them!  Just copy, paste and Tweet away!

  1. From 1999 – 2008 Americans imported 4021 lion trophies to USA. That’s >400 Lions Killed Per Year! @USFWSInternatl ‪#‎LionsWaitingToDie‬
  2. The Fate of #Lions #LionsWaitingToDie Ban Canned Hunting @USFWSInternatl @USFWSHQ @cannedlion @GlobalMarchLion
  3. USA: Make Canned Hunting illegal! #LionsWaitingToDie @USFWSInternatl
  4. USA largest importer of lion parts, despite lions facing extinction in wild @USFWSInternatl List As Endangered in ESA. #LionsWaitingToDie
  5. @USFWSInternatl @USFWSHQ PLS list ‪#‎lions‬ as endangered on Endangered Species Act. BAN CANNED HUNTING @GlobalMarchLion #LionsWaitingToDie
  6. African Lion meets the statutory criteria to be listed an endangered under the ESA @USFWSInternatl DO IT! #LionsWaitingToDie
  7. @USFWSInternatl USA: make canned hunting illegal! #LionsWaitingToDie
  8. Listing lion endangered will benefit iconic animal & prohibit import to USA. DO IT! @USFWSInternatl #LionsWaitingToDie
  9. Canned Hunting-American Atrocity: Hunters pay 2 kill hand-raised,bottle-fed lions @USFWSInternatl #LionsWaitingToDie