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WORLD LION DAY - 10 AUGUST 2015

lion on africatfemale lion

And the time has come for Namibia’s lions to be regarded as a greater asset alive than dead, not only in its national parks but also in the communal conservancies, which are in essence, our wilderness areas.

Namibia boasts approximately 79 registered Communal Conservancies (MET March 2013), of which less than 50% can claim the presence of resident lions; those conservancies adjacent to or in close proximity to protected areas such as Parks and tourism concessions, may be home to lion prides (some 'prides' comprising only two or three lionesses and their cubs, with no resident males), but for the rest, small groups, solitary lions or male coalitions passing through, seem to be the norm.

Within most communal conservancies, land-use generally includes settlement areas (where farmers and their livestock may settle), hunting zones and core-conservation areas, the latter demarcated for wildlife protection (breeding areas) and photographic tourism, where no-one may settle, no livestock may graze and no hunting may take place. Such conservancies must generate sufficient revenue annually to support amongst others, management committees and game guards and to supplement the livestock-loss compensation fund, this derived from consumptive (trophy hunting and 'meat-hunting') and non-consumptive (photographic tourism and game-capture) utilization of their wildlife. Each year, quotas are set for 'shoot and sell' (meat-hunting) as well as trophy hunting and without this revenue, conservancies are unable to function, unless they are lucky enough to have well-visited tourist lodges in their core-conservation areas, where tourists are primarily drawn by promised sightings of elephant, rhino and lion (as well as other large carnivores); in some community lodges, a predator fund has been established in support of communal farmers.

 

And herein lies the dilemma: with Namibia’s most recent lion population estimates ranging between 1113 - 1644 (Namibia Large Carnivore Atlas, 2012), found mostly within parks and state protected areas, there are too few lions in communal conservancies outside of the protected areas, to offer the sightings needed to attract tourists; the communal farming communities therefore struggle to attach a value to these 'living' lions when insufficient funding filters down to compensate for livestock losses and to support their needs.

africat building kraalscompleted livestock kraal with cattleafc cccp lion rrlion dr roberts blood collection tammy directed operation

Some of the work AfriCat does.

The AfriCat Communal Carnivore Conservation Programme (CCCP), which drives the Hobatere Lion Research Project (AHLRP) and the Livestock Protection Programme (LPP) is, however, making headway in a number of communal conservancies in the Kunene Region of north-west Namibia, where lions are either resident or visitors and where photographic lodges are rapidly developing innovative ways to support these programmes as well as the affected farmers; once such lodges are able to prove the value of the 'living' lion by generating more revenue and employment, the greater the tolerance and acceptance will be.

 

Join us on World Lion Day in celebration of the 'living' Lion, those who understand their value and those who soon will.

 

CELEBRATING WORLD LION DAY IN NORTH-WESTERN NAMIBIA:

In honour of the Lion, the children and a Chief with a vision.

"If our land had no wildlife, our eyes would be hungry" – Chief Ndjiwa of Onguta Village, Ehirovipuka Conservancy, Namibia.

Upon our arrival at the Onguta lower primary school to celebrate World Lion Day last week (this was celebrated prematurely as the Namibian schools close doors for their mid-year vacation), we were "Welcomed to the Lions’ Day" by rows of neatly clad students bursting with energy and excitement, ready to present their well-prepared plays, dances and speeches.

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World Lion Day: Enthusiastic scholars and teachers welcome AfriCat! | Performing the 'Imbimbi war-cry'!

So, where do we go from here . . . Cecil is dead, Terrace Male and Rosh, together with an untold number of nameless lions - males, females and cubs alike, are shot, poisoned, trapped, traded and tortured, left to die slow, painful deaths, with the Empire State Building NYC, the tabloids and social media presenting the world with photographs, statistics and horror stories of atrocities towards lions, not forgetting the millions of likes, comments and vented anger appearing on our facebook pages . . . . 

I also read countless comments against lions - farmers, hunters and politicians claiming their 'right' to kill lions and other wildlife, offering valid reasons from fear of these large, ferocious carnivores and loss of revenue due to livestock loss, to the highly rated revenue derived from trophy hunting or the 'farming' of such prized game!

So, where DO we go from here . . . . It is time to take stock of our actions, time to reconsider policy, time to listen to the visionary Chiefs . . . .  time for 'Conservation Through Education'!

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 AfriCat North base – Tammy Hoth-Hanssen and the AfriCat Lion Guards.

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FORGET HUNTERS. HUMANS POSE ALL KINDS OF RISKS TO LIONS.

Conservation, not Internet outrage, is what the big cats need!

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Cecil the lion rests in Hwange National Park, in Hwange, Zimbabwe. Ending trophy hunting wouldn’t help keep lions from being threatened. (Andy Loveridge/Wildlife Conservation Research Unit via AP)

 

I saw my first poisoned lion carcass in the African wilderness when I was 12 years old. The lion had eaten from a donkey baited with pesticide by a local farmer in retaliation for cattle lost to predation. Dozens of dead vultures formed rings around the remains of the livestock animal, like ripples from a pebble tossed in a pond. The effects of a poisoning surge through the local ecosystem, killing all manner of scavengers.

Raised on a lion research station in northern Botswana, I saw many lions succumb to natural causes. Such losses are sustainable; however, starting in the late ‘90s, as conflict between predators and humans escalated, we also lost dozens of lions to poison. They died a slow and painful death.

Heading out into the bush to radio-track our collared study animals, once a joyful experience, soon filled me with anxiety, as we encountered increasing numbers of dead lions in the no man’s land between protected wilderness and farmland.

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Years later, the furor this week surrounding the death of Cecil the lion  has filled me with mixed emotions. I am encouraged to see lions featured in an international discussion, and dismayed to see the genuine challenges of 21st century lion conservation overshadowed by a witch hunt for Cecil’s alleged killer, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. That sentiment is shared by Laurence Frank,  a research associate at University of California at Berkeley, who has conducted predator research in Kenya for 40 years.

"It’s frustrating to see vast press coverage on the shooting (albeit repugnant) of one aged lion, while thousands are poisoned, speared and snared every year and no one pays any attention," says Frank. "Like everyone else in this business, I am beyond sick of the hunting debate and wish there were some way to focus public outrage on the issues that really matter." Across Africa, the grazing lands of rural farmers share borders with wilderness areas. Predators that move to the periphery of protected areas due to hunger, fear, drought or chance, often prey on livestock and are at risk of retaliatory poisoning by farmers.

Craig Packer, the director of the University of Minnesota’s lion research center,  believes retaliatory killing is a more pressing issue than the 600 or so trophy lions killed each year. It is hard to estimate the number of African lions that starve due to dwindling prey numbers, or that are shot, trapped or poisoned by farmers and poachers, though many argue that this figure eclipses trophy hunting. In Kenya alone, scientists estimate that 100 lions are killed illegally each year by people. [Rich American tourists kill hundreds of lions each year, and it’s legal

"It’s impossible for us to attribute the percentage of lions lost to different causes — the consensus, though, is that the two leading contributors are habitat loss and retaliatory killing," says Packer, who conducted lion research in Tanzania for 35 years. "We can also say that poorly regulated sports hunting has also contributed to [continued population decline]."

Should the media solely choose to focus on the hunting debate, the vilification of an American dentist will surely not discourage the world’s sport hunters, a community that at times seems to revel in an "us and them" mentality.

A bad guy at the center of a narrative certainly makes it more intriguing, though in many cases Palmer is a red herring. The international disgust toward the poachers of southern Africa’s rhinos helps fast-track efforts to hunt the perpetrators down directly and individually. HOWEVER, CONSERVATION IS BEST CONDUCTED THROUGH POLICY — to believe that Africa’s animal black market will be controlled via picking off its foot soldiers is to believe that America’s illegal drug trade can be resolved by policing street corners.

A poor, rural farmer, for whom cows are cash, is a harder figure to demonize than a Minnesota dentist with a bow and arrow, but this character needs equal attention. He and his family live alongside wild animals, and lions can get nasty.

As a child, I was often terrified by their aggression, speed and power. They instill fear in rural communities that have precious livestock to protect. One man’s symbolic beast is another man’s sworn enemy. If trophy hunting were eliminated tomorrow, which could be done with a signature, the unresolved and complex issue of shared territory between humans and lions would maintain the species’ road to extinction. This is not to let hunters off the hook. A well-run hunting concession that sustains a wildlife population and acts as a buffer between agricultural land and protected areas can prove an impracticable objective. Packer says many hunting concessions in Tanzania, for example, are under-funded and cannot achieve this task, and hunters just finish off the job the farmers were threatening to perform.

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 [Did Walter Palmer give Ceil the lion a 'fair chance'?

"In Tanzania, a lot of hunting blocks received little protection, they lost their wildlife, and now they’re gone," Packer says. "Hunters, in the absence of adequate funding and investment, are basically strip-mining the wildlife while it’s still there and not doing anything to prevent their eventual disappearance." While on the face of it Cecil’s $50,000 price tag would suggest otherwise, Packer says that the economic contribution of hunting to governments, conservation and local communities is "piffling." One study suggests that as little as 3 percent of hunting revenues go to local communities living in hunting areas and in Namibia, the country where hunting comprises the greatest portion of the national economy, trophy hunting contributes a "completely insignificant" 0.27 percent of GDP. 

The reality is that without dramatic changes to conservation, most of the wild animals outside of well-managed protected areas in Africa are going to be lost, hunters or no hunters, and wild land will be replaced by human settlement and agriculture. For Packer and several other lion researchers, increased funding into lion conservation and fencing are the two best options for bolstering those protected zones.

These researchers are the people who provide the data with which government policies and conservation strategies are made. It is often gruelling, dangerous and thankless work, conducted at the mercy of volatile and limited funding streams. Researchers are often despised by some within their communities — seen as a threat by farmers and hunters — and sometimes their research permits are not renewed due to pressure from powerful hunting companies. Packer himself says he was forced out of Tanzania after 35 years of research after being accused of "meddling with lion hunting." [The big business of big game trophy hunting

Working in the wilderness is both a privilege and a lot of hard work. Field researchers operate on shoestring budgets and are in it for the love, not the money. They connect us with the day to day stories of animals surviving under increasing pressure. It is critical that these stories are told and that the data that arises can inform policy makers. There will be no one size fits all resolution and researchers on the ground must be supported in order to provide regionally specific strategies.

So if the thousands of people who have taken to social media following the death of Cecil really want to make a difference, they should turn away from the pantomime villain of the tourist hunter and donate to conservation efforts that directly fund independent lion research projects.
By Angus McNeice July 31
Angus McNeice is a freelance journalist working out of England and Spain. He is former editor of the Santiago Times in Chile and a former speechwriter in the U.K. Parliament. He co-authored the book "The Lion Children" with his siblings in 2001.

 

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