The Last Wild Lions

July 18, 2018

        In 1955 we had close to 500,000 wild lions on this planet.  We now have an optimistic number of 25,000 of which only 3,500 are the big male trophy lions. Between the years 2000 and 2009, hunters shot 6, 500 of these; a number listed by CITES and this number does not include any lions killed or poached by local tribes.  The West African lion is a sub species, that is now almost extinct and yet still hunted for sport.  If no alarm bells are sounding for the West African lions now, there is little hope for the lions of East and Southern Africa.  The facts speak for themselves.  The perfect storm is developing, one that will end in the extinction of our wild lion in the near future. Note, I am talking about wild lions and not “raised” lions that are bred and killed under the category of  the Canned Hunt Industry. These are lion that are bred in captivity often defanged and declawed and released into confined areas for trophy hunters. This is largely how lions are hunted in South Africa because there is very little wild lion hunting in that country. Some wild lions are now being lured into S Africa from Botswana by using water as bait. There, they are shot. All cat hunting is now banned in Botswana because they have identified that we are running out of wild lions to shoot. Canned Hunting is becoming a huge industry and  spreading into Zimbabwe and Zambia. I met a safari operator in Zimbabwe this summer who said he had transferred 40 raised lion into Zimbabwe from South Africa to hunt. I bet that most safari hunters are not even aware that they are shooting tame, raised lion in Zimbabwe. Hunting outfits in Zimbabwe are even bidding on mature lions in sanctuaries that had been rescued. One bid was up to $18,000 on a pet male lion but the owner refused to sell it if it was to be shot for sport.  There was a public outcry in South Africa over Canned Hunting and it was then banned for a short while. It is in full swing once again. This is all out of control. Something has to be done.

 

Human Conflict

        The conflicts between humans and lions are a major factor in wiping out our wild lion.  The population explosion in Africa, and the fact that lions need huge areas to range, with viable prey numbers than are now being poached, have pitted local tribes against the wild lions because where they intersect there is conflict. Poisoning is the preferred means of killing lions in and around the villages to stop cattle losses.  In East Africa, the pesticides Furadan (google Furadan 60 Minutes and view the video,) and Temic in South Africa are used to lace baits.  The poison kills everything that feeds on the carcass.  Jackal, hyena, all birds of prey and, of course, whole prides of lion are killed.  These pesticides have killed half of the vultures in South Africa.  Tuck Gaisford ,  Anthony  Chimblo and myself were very involved in getting FMC, the makers of Furadan in the USA, to institute a buyback program.  The pesticide was banned in the USA because it killed millions of our birds.  However, it is still manufactured here.  Yes, chemicals that are banned here can still be manufactured here and exported all over the world, mostly to third world countries. We then eat the produce from such countries i.e. Mexico. Children in Kenya have died as a result of tasting it.

        The human impact is evident in other species of course. I traveled to Mali last November to track the Desert Elephant, as they are reportedly the largest of all elephant. They are still in existence for one reason: all their tusks are broken off  due to digging in the hard mineral rich ground. This factor is saving them from the ivory poachers. There are only  500 left.

I may have been the last white man to see these huge elephant sadly because Al Quaeda has taken over the area and the next group of visitors (geologists) were kidnapped days after I left.  However, I saw large quantities of Furadan for sale there anyway and that will impact the Desert Elephants anyway as they are increasingly raid the farmlands.

        Some projects and efforts are working, but it is barely stemming the tide. The Lion Guardians in Kenya and Tanzania are trying to educate, compensate, and help the Maasai to build stronger enclosures to protect their cattle from lion predation.  Living Walls orGreen Walls are fast growing thorn bush walls that keep lion out of villages and cattle enclosures. Big Life and Massailand Preservation Trust are involved in anti paoching and predator compensation, and each has its small successes. My son Tuck worked with this group last summer.  They are doing a great job but it’s an uphill fight. National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative focuses on lions and cheetahs and has generated over $2M in funding for projects but still, this is a problem or order of magnitude 20 times that.

 

Poaching

        Because of the population explosion in Africa there is the upsurge in subsistence and commercial poaching. This is wiping out the lions food source. If as the New York Times article reports we are losing 25,000 elephants a year and South Africa reported losing a rhino every 13 hours in 2012, lions are the unreported casualties of poaching because the bodies disappear much faster than both elephants and rhinos.

 

Ritual Killing

        Hunting of lion by the Maasai to prove their manhood is both cultural and rampant. Although I applaud the courage of the Maasai, because this is real hunting, with only a shield and spear, it is not sustainable.  There are many more warriors and a lot fewer lion now.  Tuck also worked on this, helping to disarm seven Maasai and save a lioness and her cubs. This lioness was subsequently poisoned with Furadan. There is no legal trophy hunting of lion in Kenya. Recently the Maasai held the first Maasai Olympics initiated by some conservationists in Kenya to help persuade warriors to channel their competitiveness and energy into athletics rather than killing.

 

Disease

        Bovine Tuberculosis or BTB was spread to the Cape buffalo by domestic cattle in South Africa. Lions eat the buffalo and, as a result, contract a very bad form of TB that eats away their hips and main joints.  80% of the lions in South Africa’s Kruger Park are now infected and the disease is spreading into Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Most lions are also infected with feline aids.  Both Tuck and Nunu Chimblo were again, in on this problem and we made a short video on BTB to expose the South African National Parks who were keeping the problem quiet.  SAN Parks felt that if the public knew there was TB in the parks tourists would no longer visit them.  We confronted the head of SAN Parks at the Explorers Club in NYC and demanded they acknowledge the problem.  We put together a meeting at Onderstepoort Veterinary School in South Africa, of TB experts,SAN PRKS officials and the lion research team headed by Dr Deevalt Keet. He  furnished proof of the problem and it was agreed that our wild lion are in real danger in S Africa and it needs to be addressed.

 

Chinese Lion Bone Trade

        I regard this as a very serious and looming threat to our wild lion. The Asians are now not only after elephant ivory and rhino horn for the unsubstantiated benefits these potions are supposed to give.  Tigers are critically endangered because of the Asian demand for their bones and body parts which are hard to come by now.  As a result, the Chinese are now after lion and will now pay up to $15,000 for a single lion skeleton. There is no difference between tiger and lion bone. The Asians believe that  captive or raised  lion is not as powerful as the wild ones.  So once again the wild lions are being hammered. The South African government is being irresponsible is feeding this trade and creating a major problem for tigers as a result but releasing over 1,000 skeletons in 2012.

        Lions are not on any CITES list, so they have no protection under this treaty from the sale of their body parts. When the numbers are obviously low and dropping I cannot understand why.  Does the hunting lobby have anything to do with this?  Lion need the protection to stop the sale of their body parts to the Asians or they will face the same fate as the rhino.We have lost 500 rhino already this year in S Africa alone.The lion is not on the agenda for the upcoming CITES meeting.Much to the joy of the lion trophy hunting industry. This is just nuts. Lions need protection under CITES. Leopard, rhino and elephant do have protection under CITES and there are many more of each than there are of wild lion.  Why is the lion not listed? Trophy hunters should realize they would still be able to bring their trophy back to the US, but it would at least help stop the sale of lion bones to the Asian market. We are in a 90 day review period for a US government petition to list lions on the Endangered Species Protection Act. The largest opposition in fact the only opposition comes from the hunting fraternity in the US. Why? Under that law, it simply states that no lion skin or body part can be traded. It still allows for hunting, and as usual requires a permit from the country of origin. But the hunter cannot trade in the skin. Now most hunters claim to simply wish to collect the experience and the trophy for themselves so once again, I just don’t understand the reluctance to cooperate in the protection of a highly endangered species.

 

Trophy Hunting of Wild Lion

        Trophy articulates the ‘largest’ or ‘best’ and therein lays the problem. We are losing our gene pool and disrupting the prides.

        When a trophy pride lion is shot we lose at least 8 to 15 lion and, by some, the estimate is much higher, simply by extension of the fact that new male lions that fill the territorial, void kills all the previous males cubs

        The hunter will think he has only killed one lion, but that is not the case. This is to bring the females into estrus so the new pride lion can sire his cubs and his own gene pool. The trophy hunter, by shooting one lion, has just killed off most of the pride. I was in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe in August and a report came in from the lion research team that Oliver, a very well know pride lion with a collar and ten cubs, had just been baited and lured out of the park to be shot by a well known safari operator.  The hunter even brought in the collar, which had been put on Oliver only three days prior.  Then, one week later, a three-year-old lion was shot, and again, one week later, a third three year old was shot by the same hunter. The shooting of a lion under seven years of age or a pride lion is disruptive and unethical, especially when they are baited on the park border. Baiting on the park borders is the same as shooting the lion inside the park. The parks are there to protect our big cats.

I have many friends who are hunters and I am sure that as conservationists their actions can only be because they don’t have this information.

        The killing of the big males is devastating to the pride and is the biggest problem in every scenario.

 

        Bovine Tuberculosis, poisoning by Furadan, trophy hunting, ritual killing by Maasai, and the Asian Bone Trade all target the big males. Our big male lions have no chance.The gene pool is being compromised.

        As stated above, we only have about 3,500 big trophy lions left in the wild, in all of Africa.  That is about 25% of the Bald Eagles here in the USA. The Bald Eagle is our symbol and the Lion is the iconic symbol of Africa, if not the world, for its strength and power.  What if Africans came here and hunted our Bald Eagles? I am from Africa originally and have run safaris there for 50 years now. We never went a day without seeing lion in the beginning. Now we jump for joy at just hearing them at night and frequently return without our guests even seeing a wild lion.

        Wild lion hunting has become so profitable that no one involved in the cat hunting industry wants to give up the money. This will result in the loss of all our wild lions unless the hunting community does something now.  I spoke to some young professional hunters at the SCI convention this year. They stated that they know we are losing lions so they are grabbing the money while they can. A recent study showed that as species become more threatened and endangered, hunting levels actually go up, because of the rarity but long term it is the the photographic and hunting industries who will lose most.What will an African safari be like when the last wild lion is shot? The reason why an African safari is exciting now, is because there is an element of danger. There might just be a lion behind any bush.  We do many walking safaris and hunters will attest that it is just not the same walking or hunting in areas where there are no big cats.

        The wild lion is Africa.  I am not a bunny hugger and I love to walk in the bush with a gun.  Hunting is a huge part of conservation and we have far more wild animals in South Africa than we did 50 years ago. Hunters have made it a profitable business and put a value on the animal’s head. Cattle farmers got rid of all their cattle to stock with game for the hunting industry. For example, take the rhino that was almost wiped out. White rhino were down to about 1,500 but when the hunting of them was opened up after successful breeding programs, they rebounded to today’s approximately 20,000.  (Unfortunately, the Asian demand for the horn may well still bring about their demise.)

        Most all of the wildlife in Africa can be bred in captivity and released into the wild for hunting. This is not the case with lion.  They have never been successfully put back into the wild. When we have shot the last wild lion it will be the last wild lion, we cannot recreate the species from captive stocks.

        Corruption is rampant especially in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique due to quotas etc. Unethical hunting of trophy lions is a huge problem: shooting under-aged lions, pride and collared lion, hunting with dogs and drag lines, baiting on park borders and, in many cases, inside the national parks themselves. Most of all cats are shot from the safety of a blind. The national parks are put there to protect the big cats so why is baiting on the borders allowed. A cat hunting outfitter in Zimbabwe and known as the cat man promotes himself and his good record as he places his baits on the park borders.  All of the above may not be illegal, but they only marginally so and definitely unethical and unsportsmanlike. What happened to fair chase? All cat hunting in Botswana has now been banned which is because of the unethical practices of the big cat hunters. Wild lion hunting should be halted for at least 5 years everywhere to give these magnificent creatures a chance to rebound.  I do not think I will see this happen, but ethical and fair chase of all cat hunting should be implemented by the hunting industry itself and using that 5 year ban s the best time to put those practices in place. The hunting community needs to police itself.  In the old days, hunters truly hunted.  Give the cats a chance on an ethical and fair chase basis and we may just have the wild lions around a bit longer. Manage the desire, the egos, the greed and we might have them around forever.

 

 

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