Lion conservation in Africa – what to do to protect lions

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African lion and lioness

If you want to know how to protect the African lion you have to look at what is killing this iconic species. You then remove those things which kill the cat. That’s called conservation. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to remove the human activity which is killing the lion but we can do our best and at least chip away at it. Humans are killing lions indirectly or directly, just so we are clear.

If you want to know the threats to the African lion’s survival you go to the IUCN Red List website. It is not a great website but they are the people in the know about conservation because humankind relies upon them to assess threats to the survival of wild species, flora and fauna.

African lion and lioness

African lion and lioness. Photo in the public domain.

Indiscriminate killing

The main threats to lions, they say, is indiscriminate killing mainly because of retaliatory killings by farmers or pre-empted killing to protect human life and livestock. This means that lions live on farmland or come on to it and attack livestock and kill it. Therefore the farmers get annoyed and they track down the lion and kill it. It’s a kind of warfare and it is ongoing. You could argue that the reason why the human-lion conflict takes place is because there are more farmers; there are more people and therefore there is less space for the lions. The lions have to occupy the land where farms have been created. Therefore they find the easiest prey which is cattle and bingo, you have indiscriminate retaliatory killing.

Insurance schemes

I have to refer to the conservation of the snow leopard in the Himalayas. The Snow Leopard Trust has set up, with local farmers and local people, insurance schemes so that when a farmer loses livestock to a snow leopard they are compensated. This sort of scheme would benefit the African lion. Perhaps it is already in place in parts but that is not apparent by the IUCN red list website (yes, see below – there are problems with it).

Trophy hunting

They also say that trophy hunting has a net positive impact in some areas (I disagree with this strongly) but also contributes to lion population declines. These declines are taking place in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Namibia according to 3 studies. Comment: my distinct impression is that the people at the IUCN Red List are compromised/conflicted. They are operating under a conflict of interest by engaging in communications with trophy hunting organisations in the US. This is an allegation and it is a reason why they make the comment above that trophy hunting can have a net positive impact sometimes.

Trophy hunting is carried out in a number of sub-Saharan African countries. It is considered to be a management and conservation tool because it brings in money to governments and communities. However, it appears to be out of control and in any event saying that trophy hunting improves conservation is an excuse for trophy hunting. We hear that same argument time and time again by trophy hunters. It justifies what they do which is the shooting of iconic species for fun. And lots of lions are bred to be shot in canned hunts. These are lions in enclosures where they can’t escape and they are shot at close range by a tourist with the aid of an unethical South African businessman. These are my personal views and allegations.

Prey depletion

Another threat to the African lion’s survival in the wild is prey depletion. This is due to an increased bushmeat trade. Bushmeat refers to people killing wild animals to eat themselves. This leaves less animals for the lion to prey upon and eat. It’s as simple as that.

Chinese traditional medicine

Another threat is the well-known trade in body parts to feed the Chinese traditional medicine market. The tiger is under a similar enormous threat by this market. The trade is illegal under international treaties. There appears to be an increased interest in African lion bone. They make wine out of lion and tiger bones. The Chinese think that it improves their health if they drink it. Comment: the Chinese are in Africa in a big way for commercial reasons. They want to mine precious metals for their manufacturing industries. While they are in Africa they grant loans to governments and local officials and seek favours with respect to the illegal trade in African lion body parts including bones. This is my assessment and it is alleged.

What to do?

Clearly, the experts, are failing in lion conservation. That’s why the population size has decreased to about 10% of what it was at around 20,000 lions on the whole of the African continent. What I would do is this: I would ban all trophy hunting on the African continent of lions and indeed of any other animal. And it should be strictly enforced which is impossible because there’s too much corruption. That is, though, what I would try and do. An entire ban on the importation of African lion trophies into America, the UK and any other significant country should be in place. America did ban trophies from Africa but as I recall president Trump loosened that ban. He would because he sounds like trophy hunting. The UK still allows the importation of trophies from Africa but there’s talk about banning it completely. The British people want it banned.

Lion trophy hunting.

The American dentist who shot Cecil. Photos in public domain.

I would put sanctions on China to force them to remove all lion and tiger body parts from their traditional Chinese medicine. Pres Xi is a great fan of their traditional medicine which has no foundation in science in terms of being effective. However, they can stop using the body parts of these iconic species. They must be forced to do this because they won’t do it voluntarily.

As to the retaliatory killings of lions by farmers, I would introduce an effective insurance scheme to compensate farmers for livestock loss. It would be paid out of contributions from farmers and supported by the taxpayer. It could be supported internationally from concerned countries i.e. those that are richer in the West. China should certainly get involved and use their wealth to support this kind of scheme. I will also ensure that livestock it adequately protected by farmers against lion predation. I don’t know how effective their measures are but I suspect that they are rather poor. Improvements could be made I’m sure.

There’s one last point to make: I would have a root and branch cleanup of the IUCN Red List personnel. I don’t trust them an inch. They are complicit in my opinion in poor conservation and insidiously encouraging trophy hunting or at least protecting it. This has to stop. In the 21st century there is no place for killing animals for fun especially when those animals are in danger and their survival is in jeopardy. How can humankind justify it?