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More lion statistics

Lions

The CITES stats I referred to in a previous blog are a comprehensive set of numbers covering everything from trophies to the export of claws and other body parts for 2008/9. They make for astounding reading and give a clear picture of how extensive breeding, trading and hunting has become in South Africa.

Because supplying the trophy hunting industry is the primary motive behind what takes place on so many of the breeding facilities, I will be covering various aspects relating to this in an upcoming column in Africa Geographic.

For the rest, let’s start by returning to the exportation of live captive-bred lions: in total, 128 export permits were granted. Readers of the blog will recall my comments on the various possibilities of why 17 of these ended up in Botswana. Equally intriguing are the 16 lions that went to Zambia. As is the case with Botswana, and given that captive-bred animals are highly unlikely to have anything to do with conservation, why would they want to be importing these animals? I am aware of a new reserve being created on the outskirts of Lusaka, but this is unlikely to be in a position to take all of them. And then there are the two ‘walking-with-lions’ outfits in Livingstone that unashamedly try and market themselves as conservation organisations?

While the above are possibilities, I continue to believe that the most probable reason is that predator breeding stock and canned hunting is in the process of being exported to Zambia as well. With the pending legislation changes due in South Africa, the large breeders and operators are surely looking for alternative options – and why not move to a region where the conditions of operation are far less onerous, or even non-existent?

Readers may also be aware of the controversial sable antelope deal playing itself out in Zambia. Presently, hundreds of these animals are sitting in quarantine outside Lusaka, unable to be brought in by a syndicate of breeders and hunters. If you can’t bring the sable to South Africa, why not consider taking the hunters – and the lions – to Zambia?

Back to the statistics: not surprisingly, 43 live lions went to Thailand and 16 to Vietnam. While these could have been for a host of reasons, including private collections, zoos and circuses, my guess is that some have also been sliced up for traditional medicines and tiger bone wine (see my diary in Africa Geographic February 2009). Vietnam is also listed as by far and away the largest importer of lion bones, while China leads the list of body parts, or what CITES refers to as ‘specimens’.

If anyone was ever in doubt as to the extent of the trade in lions through South Africa, these statistics certainly put an end to that argument. Before year-end we are likely to have a final decision from the South African courts on the dispute between government and the predator breeders: these stats are further evidence that the government’s decision to curtail the industry needs to be supported at every level.

And then to all those neighbouring conservation organisations and government bodies and individuals that abhor the predator breeding and canned hunting practices pioneered in South Africa – be aware, this may be the first signs that your wildlife industry is in the process of being contaminated.

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Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.