Lions and Treaties: Why we need a bold new conservation paradigm if lions are to avoid extinction


Here I respond to an article on lions published in Nature Conservation online:

International law and lions (Panthera leo): understanding and improving the contribution of wildlife treaties to the conservation and sustainable use of an iconic carnivore
Arie Trouwborst, Melissa Lewis, Dawn Burnham, Amy Dickman, Amy Hinks, Timothy Hodgetts, Ewan A. Macdonald, David W. Macdonald

The article provides a useful overview of international treaties and conventions which are supposed to protect lions.

There are treaties like RAMSAR and World Heritage that designate areas where wildlife, including lions ought to be protected. There are also species specific treaties like CITES that seek to protect listed species, including lions.

The authors, lawyers and academics, try valiantly to make a case for these international laws and treaties. Admitting the shortfalls and failures, they nevertheless claim that there is some benefit to lions from this hideous bureaucracy of legal drafting.

As one would expect from lawyers, for whom the magnificent complexity of life on earth can be reduced to written rules, their solution is:

a.     better enforcement of existing rules, and
b.     more rules.

“International law is the pre-eminent mechanism for realizing these, and despite the inherent limitations of international treaties and the various challenges to their effective implementation, many species would have been (even) worse off without international wildlife law.” 

It is tragic that such intelligent and well-meaning academics and lawyers can miss the point so badly. The point is that there are very good reasons why the existing rules are not being implemented in Africa. Those reasons are cultural, political and social and, until those are resolved, African governments will continue to ignore rules relating to environmental governance. I’m speaking generally, while admitting exceptions; Botswana, for example, is far better governed than any other countries that I have lived in.

The problem facing African lions is that they compete for survival with a human population whose reckless breeding habits are out of control. That creates massive social problems, which lead inexorably to political issues; African governments are notoriously corrupt, incompetent and dysfunctional. The authors correctly lament the ‘lack of capacity’ in African governments, but that bland, misleading euphemism does not come close to describing quite how useless government structures are in Africa. There is no lack of capacity when it comes to buying presidential jets or building palaces. Here is how the authors refer to this issue:

“It seems safe to assume that the future of lions would be much more secure if all range states fully lived up to the international obligations identified in the above analysis. However, the implementation of these obligations is affected by pervasive compliance deficiencies due to problems of capacity, governance and enforcement in many range states.”

Wow! You think?

The environmentally ruinous effects of a rapidly expanding, poorly educated human population are at least twofold:

  1. There is no political will to protect the environment and it is getting worse, not better. Why would a local politician spend funds on protecting wildlife when he can rather build his personal wealth and survive the next election by funnelling the money through to friends, relatives and party faithful in the form of patronage? People vote. Trees and animals do not.
  2. An exploding human population is already overwhelming government services such as health, welfare and education, leaving a seething, discontented underclass – unemployed (and often unemployable), poorly educated and desperate. This tsunami of desperate humanity will overwhelm and destroy the ecology of the continent and then become Europe’s problem in the form of illegal migrants.

In the context of this catastrophic descent into chaos and anarchy, the authors’ solution of more ‘soft’ laws and international treaties to save Africa’s lions is a superficial distraction from the real issues.

Indeed it is an exercise in futility.

Look at this passage:

“Ramsar-listing for 26 African sites has been instrumental in providing increased support for protection and management of the sites, scientific studies, funding opportunities, tourism, and poverty alleviation.

Evidently, the listing of a site on the World Heritage List or the Danger List does not as such guarantee conservation success. For example, despite its status as a World Heritage site since 1981 and its Danger-listing in 2007, Senegal’s Niokolo-Koba National Park has experienced calamitous declines in prey populations, and concomitant declines in lion numbers (Henschel et al. 2014). The IUCN estimates the lion population has declined by 92%, from over 200 animals to only 16, between 1993 and 2014 (Bauer et al. 2016). Even so, the situation might have been even worse without the site’s World Heritage status, and that status would also appear to increase the possibilities for promoting recovery.” (My emphasis)

Really? Lion numbers down by 92%, but without this treaty, the situation “might have been worse?”  Listen to yourselves, authors. This terrifying statistic actually proves how illusory is the protection of the written word in Africa.

And here is their take on CITES:

Range state(s)

Category 1
Believed generally to meet all requirements for effective CITES-implementation
Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Zimbabwe

This after admitting that most of the 29 African Lion range states are incapable of even submitting returns to CITES. If conservation regimes as delinquent and dysfunctional as South Africa and Zimbabwe are regarded as paragons of virtue in ‘effective CITES implementation,’ then one must know how futile CITES is.

What about the Convention on Biodiversity?

“Whereas the above provisions are just as binding as other treaty obligations, they are phrased in such a broad and qualified manner that it is difficult in practice to identify the boundary between compliance and violation.”

Translation in to plain words: this Convention is so vague as to be meaningless.

When listing the well-known threats to lions, the authors have this to say about trophy hunting:

“Trophy hunting can have positive or negative impacts, depending on how well it is regulated.

CITES Entebbe Communique of 2016:

Notably, the Communiqué contains the following statement on the controversial issue of lion trophy hunting, wherein the 28 range states that attended the meeting:
Highlight the benefits that trophy hunting, where it is based on scientifically established quotas, taking into account the social position, age and sex of an animal, have, in some countries, contributed to the conservation of lion populations and highlight the potentially hampering effects that import bans on trophies could have for currently stable lion populations.'”

Here is my question to the authors for parroting hunting propaganda: what, if anything, in Africa is “well regulated?” Health services are appalling. Education is a disaster. No one with any knowledge of Africa could possibly believe for one second that hunting can ever be “well regulated.”

In my humble opinion, the authors have failed to grasp the fact that to save Africa’s lions we need a whole new conservation paradigm. Despite the whole raft of international laws and conventions, well summarised by the authors, and which ought to be protecting lions, we can all agree that the present conservation regime is not working. As the authors put it:

“Yet, all of them are subject to limitations. The Ramsar Convention is limited to wetlands; the WHC is limited to sites of outstanding universal value; CITES is limited to international trade; the CBD is very general and lacks a species-specific focus; the African Convention is institutionally dormant and several important range states are not parties; the Bern Convention is of marginal significance; the SADC Protocol has a limited geographic scope and lacks a species-specific focus; and the various TFCA treaties have geographically limited and fragmented scopes, and remain conceptual in some of the most significant habitats for lions.”

Wild lion populations are plummeting… except where rigidly protected by military means in enclosed areas. There lies the lesson – and the answer. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, than the present conservation regime in Africa is insane. As the authors themselves point out:

“According to Lindsey et al. (2017), given adequate management, Africa’s protected areas could theoretically support over 80,000 lions – up to four times the total wild lion population remaining in Africa today.”

Let that sink in… What better proof of the abject failure of African governments to protect their wildlife heritage?

For the reasons described above, the drive to save Africa’s wildlife heritage will not come from African governments. It will have to come from the developed world.

Funding should not be a problem. If trillions of dollars can be created out of thin air to rescue zombie banks in the first world, why should anti-poaching units in Africa have to be subsidised by private donations and managed by private persons? Why are so many game rangers in Africa unpaid and unable even to afford to buy boots for their feet, when billions are spent in wasteful and frivolous activities and projects?

All aid to African countries ought to be made subject to compliance with environmental protection obligations, and that compliance should be monitored by an international police force.

Protected areas should be what the name implies, wilderness areas rigidly and aggressively protected, by military means if necessary.

Nothing short of these measures will prevent the African lion from becoming extinct in the wild, and the species’ only survivors farmed as alternative livestock in small cages, like the canned lions in the infamous South African ‘conservation’ model.

Originally published on Campaign Against Canned Hunting’s blog.

Featured image courtesy Kim Bartlett / Animal People, Inc.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Author

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.

Leave A Reply