Canned lion hunting – a buffer against what?

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The South African government’s ‘Scientific Authority’ says ‘everything is awesome’ when it comes to canned hunting. Yet even Safari Club International has thrown PHASA (Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa) and canned lion hunting under the bus, making the government’s insane verdict largely irrelevant.

In Government Gazette No. 41393, published on January 23rd, 2018, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) set out its non-detriment findings (NDF) for the African lion. This is of extreme importance to the hunting industry, since without an NDF, no lion hunts would be allowed and no lion trophies could be exported.

Let us unpack some of the gems contained in this 21 page government document, which basically gives the green light for lion trophy hunting to continue. The starting point for the NDF is its confident assertion that ‘the national and provincial permitting systems are effective.’  We shall see…

False Reporting

Statement 1: ‘Currently wild lion hunts are less than 10 per year.’

Statement 2: ‘According to the CITES trade database that is administered by UNEP-WCMC, just over half (53%) of the lion (3508) exported from South Africa between 2000 and 2009 are wild sourced, but this is due to a reporting error. Lions bred in captivity, then released in extensive systems for a period of time before being hunted have in the past been incorrectly reported as source code “W’ (i.e. wild). Delegated provincial management authorities have subsequently been requested to ensure the correct use of source codes so that the CITES trade records correctly reflect the trade in wild specimens. There is also a major discrepancy between reported exports and reported imports, with reported exports of captive sourced specimens greater than reported imports and conversely the reported exports of wild sourced specimens less than the reported imports. This would have contributed to inflated export figures overall and of wild sourced specimens in particular.’

So even though less than ten lions who are truly wild are shot every year by hunters in South Africa, more than half the lions exported (about 1000 a year) are classified as wild. So, which is it? Is it ten wild lions or 500 wild lions shot every year in South Africa?

What is the cause of this false reporting? Are the provincial nature conservation officials so incompetent that they do not know the difference between a wild lion and a tame captive bred one? Or is there another, more sinister, interpretation?

Most foreign hunters come to us from the land of stars and stripes. Because of restrictions imposed upon the imports of trophies of captive bred lions by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, together with the trophy record books’ ban on accepting trophies from captive bred lions, it is very much in the interests of the U.S. trophy hunter to persuade government conservation officials to classify his dead lion as ‘wild.’ This false reporting is then carried forward to the CITES database, and makes nonsense out of the statistics there.

Canned lions – the buffer between wild lions and… what?

Statement 1: The Scientific Authority does not consider the export of captive-bred lion trophies or captive-bred live lion for zoological or breeding purposes to be detrimental to the wild lion population in South Africa. At present there is no evidence to suggest that the lion bone trade between South Africa and East – Southeast Asia is detrimental to South Africa’s wild lion population.

Statement 2: Although captive bred lions are not considered to be of any conservation value to the wild lion population (Hunter et al. 2013), it is thought that they may serve as a buffer to potential threats to the wild population by being the primary source of hunting trophies and derived products (Lindsey et al. 2012a) (e.g. bones).

A buffer against what? The NDF has already told us in Statement 1 above that there is no threat from the lion bone trade to wild lions. So why is a buffer needed for a non-existent threat? And why would hunting trophies be such a threat to wild lions, when the NDF has already told us that, ‘the national and provincial permitting systems are effective’?  

If hunters are so well regulated by the permitting system, then why would you need a buffer for a non-existent threat from trophy hunters? Are the wild lions not adequately protected by ‘national and provincial permitting systems’? This NDF is full of contradictory statements.

Saving wild lions by preserving habitat for them to be hunted

Statement 1: The economic benefits to the private sector of keeping and trading in wild lion may provide some incentive for conserving the species and its habitat.

Statement 2: Hunting of wild lion on private property is limited, with less than 5% of lion hunts conducted over the 2008 to 2010 reporting period having targeted wild lions.

I wonder if the DEA can even see the contradiction between these two statements in the NDF? Why on earth would a landowner want to preserve large swathes of land to keep a pride of lions in a wild state when less than 5% of lion hunts inside Africa involve wild victims? Where is the economic advantage of allocating so much land to so few hunts? Surely the correct answer for the NDF to the question of how much conservation benefit to wild lions and their habitat accrues from hunting is either ‘none’ or ‘uncertain.’

One could go on ad nauseam pointing out the logical flaws and false assumptions that characterise this non-detriment finding. Nonetheless, the NDF will enable lion trophy hunters to continue in their cruel bloody addiction, with the ardent support of South African conservation structures.

Why do I call this NDF ‘insane?’

I call the non-detriment finding ‘insane’ because it compresses the whole complexity of preserving natural functioning ecosystems into mere numbers. So long as the numbers go up or stay stable, then the ‘Scientific Authority’ will issue an NDF for the species. But numbers alone are a wholly inadequate measure of the health of the environment. It is like looking at a football match through a half closed door, where you can only see a small sliver of the pitch, and deciding from that narrow view who is playing, what is being played, and who is winning.

Take rape as an analogy. What if rape were decriminalized because the suffering of the victim was regarded as irrelevant? What if the government issued an NDF for rape on the grounds that it did not cause a decline in the number of women, and therefore represented no threat to the survival of the female human species?

U.S. President Trump, for all his faults, made a far more scientific conservation statement than this insane NDF when he summed up trophy hunting as ‘a horror show.’


Featured image: A male lion with two cubs. Credit Tambako the Jaguar, used under CC BY-ND 2.0 / cropped

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Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) is at the forefront of efforts to expose the harm being done by an industry whose whole business model is to make egregious cruelty to helpless animals routine. Canned hunting only exists because of a failure of government policy, and then it is ferociously defended by wealthy vested interests. Canned hunting can only be abolished by a sustained campaign to raise awareness, and to change policy. Click to see author's profile.

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