Lion and the ESA listing
As a Zambian I support the recent listing of Lion onto the USFWS Endangered Species Act, something not entirely shared by the majority of the professional hunters on the continent. In fact regardless of understanding the mechanics of the listing, PH's are spelling doom and gloom as usual rather seeing the positive in the situation and the road to effective conservation solutions. To be sure, the number of Lion dished out to be shot at the 2003 concession lease allocation set the tone for the situation we see today, a grave overshooting of male Lions in Zambia to the point where the population has been severely curtailed. Based upon this history as well as the now forgotten Cecil furor, the USFWS needed little persuasion to list the African Lion onto the ESA.
However, by placing the Lion on the ESA, which is an entirely American regulation, the only people affected are American hunters which understandably are in the majority in the trophy hunting world. It remains to be seen if it will be illegal for US citizens to hunt Lion in Africa regardless of weather they can bring the trophy back home or not.
It must be NOTED, this ESA listing does NOT close down the hunting of Lion in African countries, nor does it restrict individuals from other nations, where allowed, to kill and import them into their countries. Lion hunting can and will still continue in Africa and if managed in an ethical and sound environment will STILL continue to contribute towards the survival of not only Lion but all species.
As sovereign nations, those African countries where Lion hunting does occur DO NOT really have to abide by the ESA listing, they can allow Lion hunting to continue as they see fit, as Tanzania has already demonstrated. Zambia will follow suit and so will most African nations where Lion has been hunted - this is the nature of Africa and the way it operates, make no mistake, the USFWS can only try and do their bit from afar, they have no power in those African countries and they cannot enforce US law there.
Ironically in South Africa where Lion populations are soaring due to the trophy hunting demand, as well as receiving the most heat from anti lion hunting lunatics, there should be little "red tape" to work through to qualify for importation into the US under the ESA. You see, the ESA allows for species listed to gain exemption if they are taken from a property which enhances their chances of survival in the wilds, something which the South African game ranch set up clearly demonstrates and has experience with for other species on the ESA such as the lowly Bontebok.
So while those opposed to "canned hunting" are claiming victory and urging you to donate your dollar - before it is too late - towards their cause to end the hunting of Lion, it is those Lion in South Africa that are captive bred and raised for trophy hunting that will be the first to likely be allowed into the US. The listing of two subspecies of Lion for the region, southern and then central / western makes this case more apparent as the southern species is not really in any danger at all - even the one sided USFWS view cannot deny this. It is the Lion in the great expanses of the rift valley and beyond that require the closest supervision on the ground and this I believe was the listing target all along.
While it remains to be seen what mechanics exactly the ESA listing will entail in the more remote central and western African countries however, it does not technically disqualify them from being able to gain permits under the ESA in the future. Just another hurdle the hunting fraternity has to clear it could be said. However in some cases it may be beneficial to place a temporary moratorium on the unabated hunting and issuance of permits in the African countries where corruption and the pursuit of pure profit takes precedence over conservation.
Herein lies my support of the ESA listing, the nature and the manner the tourist hunting industry operates in African countries does not always lend itself to the ultimate goal of conservation, there are too many external factors at play in the Safari industry in Africa. Amongst them and possibly most prevalent, that of corruption and concession manipulation under the control of a few cartels. In Zambia and Tanzania this is certainly the case and one does wonder why this situation exists if African governments are pure in their conservation goals and not simply reaping a dwindling resource. Why would they allow the hunting concessions to remain in the hands of money laundering fronts who do not really know the very basics of hunting and its role in conservation.
Based upon the last decade of safari hunting operations in Zambia, an overly cautious estimate of the number of Lions taken during the period 2003 through 2013, as "trophies" is around 300 males. This is based upon taking the quota set for each of the prominent Game Management Areas and reducing this by half, thus allowing for a 50% success ratio which is typically higher. At the end of this 10 year concession lease period, I personally started noticing not only an absence of mature male Lion coming to the baits we had set, BUT more alarmingly there was suddenly an emergence in Zambia - which we had apparently not noticed before - of mane less Lions, with photos prominently being pasted on popular hunting forums, face book and at hunting conventions. Essentially "mane less" is nothing more than an excuse for shooting young immature Lion with no manes purely because the client, the PH and safari operator all wanted their satisfaction. I have personally sat around the campfire with longstanding Operators / PH's who have used the mantra - if it has balls it dies!
The furor around Cecil and the apparent illegality of the hunt has more to do with government officials granting excessive permits rather than the technicalities of the law, a commonly used excuse in African political circles. In addition it is the very same cartels that will coerce the incumbent governments and wildlife departments to allow Lion hunting regardless of the ESA and its restrictions because they have too much vested in the concession agreements and government payoffs.
The conservation aspects which the USFWS offers no solution for are silent and purely illegal and while they have targeted the Safari hunting industry they have made no offer of compensation for the real threats of poaching for body parts, Ivory and all the small species such as Pangolin, Tortoise, Owls, Vultures and as recently demonstrated in Kenya by the BBC Lions - Poisoning.
It is startling to note that nobody cared too much about this incident, the poisoning of a whole pride of Lions in a country where NO HUNTING occurs - it went largely unnoticed and remained low key - possibly because it draws the attention away from trophy hunting as the evil villain the money raising mechanism of the anti hunting groups is based upon. The likes of HSUS, ALF, PETA, LIONAID all have a new lease on their bank accounts as the African Lion and legal trophy hunting becomes their path to financial salvation. Forget the elephants, there be gold in them Lions as long as an largely ignorant social media frenzied public do not discover the reality of the African Lions plight.
So on the one hand while the USFWS aim is to interfere with mechanisms in which African countries implement their wildlife management plans, such as Lion off take, they offer no support or solution for other pressing wildlife issues and simply revert to the mantra of the United States itself - if Africa wants to save their wildlife they can, it is up to them, they are a democracy and they have the right to vote. If you get involved, don't do it half assed because the measures you are taking have a more severe effect on other species than Lion. I'm not going to go into the history of the United States and point to their interference across the world because they believe their way is right BUT in this case is it more of the same US imperialism under the name of conservation?
Where we as PH's will see the sad reality of what the ESA listing is really about, will be in the field when we encounter elephants with their faces hacked off, some still alive and breathing through blood gurgling throats, Lions, Leopards and more caught in snares and wasted away with no contribution to conservation. You see, if we cannot make the conservation dollars from legally managed Lion hunts, we as PH's and safari operators will stop doing what we do most of the year - anti poaching and support to local law enforcement - essentially protecting the habitat and all it encompasses.
What nobody seems to realize is that African governments handed over their conservation law enforcement to safari companies decades ago - the millions and millions of acres of habitat protected under the guise of hunting zones is done so purely by trophy hunting dollars and manpower - more land than all national parks and wilderness preserves combined. In Zambia and Tanzania there is no doubt that the government relies heavily on safari hunting to make up the majority of their annual conservation budget. It is also not surprising that in the US the majority of revenue filling the coffers of each states division of wildlife is generated from hunting and fishing - maybe they should be asked if it was OK to stop Whitetail Deer or Elk hunting because it's barbaric?
Giving money and assistance to the various governments to do conservation Law enforcement may seem to be the logical alternative, it may supplement their budget from lost hunting revenue right? Wrong! It has been proven over and over in various studies that funds given into the coffers of governments tend to remain within the circles of government - meaning very little makes it out into the field where the conservation fight is needed. In Zambia over 70% of the annual revenue received by the department of wildlife is spent and allocated within the headquarters and town circles - very little makes it out into the field where the focus is needed. Ironically close on 65% of the annual revenue earned comes from Safari Hunting and governments are entrenched in maintaining this system due to this very reason - if they stop hunting they will lose their main stream of revenue - this is how it has evolved over the years.
Why then is it so difficult to understand that if trophy hunting was stopped without an EQUAL or greater alternative revenue stream, ALL wilderness in Africa would suffer more than any associated benefits derived from banning Lion hunting. The mainstream media do not want the general public to know this, because it does not fit political correctness and it also would mean the donated dollars that support all those anti hunting conservation groups would dry up.
That is the fact about the recent ESA listing, it has NOTHING to do with the Lion and more to do with the new lease of financial opportunity the anti hunting groups, mainstream media and ultimately USFWS (there's an election coming in the USA) can gain out of this.