Lions and Elephants

To mark World Lion Day I thought I would share a few more of my photos from my trip last year to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Lions are under threat and their numbers are declining rapidly – habitat loss, poaching, trophy hunting, human-wildlife conflict, the lion bone trade, cub petting, canned hunting, human population are all factors. Photo’s like these are a reminder of what a privilege and thrill it is to see them in the wild. Nothing beats shooting wildlife with a camera.

“If one should be a prey, how much the better
To fall before the lion than the wolf.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Insights

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; 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. I think for most, including myself, this 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.

Q. 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.

Q. 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. US 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 US 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 US 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.

Q. 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

Q. 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.

Q 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.

Q 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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Q 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.

Q 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.

Q 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.

Q 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.

Q 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.

Q 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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Q 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 www.robjanisch.com.

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.

Cecil the Lion, Lions, Save Lions, Walter Palmer, Ban trophy hunting, ban sport hunting, killing is not conservation, Africa, Lions close to extinciton, Cecils Law, List the Lion as Endangered, Endangered Species, Ban import of Lion trophies into the USA, South Africa

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.

Cecil the Lion, Lions, Save Lions, Walter Palmer, Ban trophy hunting, ban sport hunting, killing is not conservation, Africa, Lions close to extinciton, Cecils Law, List the Lion as Endangered, Endangered Species, Ban import of Lion trophies into the USA, South Africa, Zimbabwe

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.

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.”

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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.”

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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. “

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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

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

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.