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Taking the lions’ share: Cecil the lion’s legacy

CITES 2016 has drawn to a close. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora held its 17th meeting in Johannesburg over the last month, and the conference — heralded as the most critical meeting in its 43-year history — delivered some surprising results.

Good news for pangolins (the most trafficked wildlife species, owing to their scales being used in traditional Asian medicine), who were uplisted to receive Appendix 1 protection, i.e. a total ban on international trade except for non-commercial import, such as scientific research.

A mixed result for elephants, as although they were not uplisted to Appendix 1, further talks to open the case for legalising the sale of ivory were quickly closed down, with parties unanimously voting to prevent a decision making mechanism for future trade.
cites-bannerI have previously written about the debate surrounding rhino horn, and, happily, CITES parties rejected Swaziland’s request to trade in white rhino horn, which to me was supported simply to allow rhino farmers to profit from long collected stockpiles of horns.

But in this Born Free Foundation’s Year of the Lion, I was particularly tuned in to the plight of lions. In the lead up to CITES, there were calls for the 182 Member Countries to uplist lions to Appendix 1, which would effectively ban all commercial international trade in lions and parts and products derived from them, and place far greater restrictions on the trophy hunting industry.

Instead of Appendix 1, however, a compromise agreement was reached banning only the trade in bones, teeth and claws from wild lions. Therefore, those coming from captive-bred lions can still be legally sold — which means the export of trophies from lion hunting, or canned hunting, remains legal.

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I must admit, I’m shocked at this decision, not just because of the all PR that the shocking practice of trophy hunting received via Cecil’s story, but because the population numbers of lions speak for themselves.

In 1900, there were as many as 1 million lions across Africa; today there are thought to be less than 20,000 wild lions across the whole continent. There are fewer than 2,000 wild lions left in Kenya, only 2,800 in South Africa, and numbers have declined 66% in 15 years in Tanzania.

When reasoning that both elephants and rhinos are wildly recognised as under threat, and their population numbers are at 40,000 [wild elephants] and 25,000 [wild rhinos] across Africa, it seems crazy to think that lion numbers are at 20,000 individuals, and yet hunters are still invited to kill thousands every year and vast tracts are reserved for hunting.

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The species is under so much pressure that — in a silver lining to the CITES outcome — Botswana announced it would voluntarily treat its lions as though the Appendix 1 vote had been approved; making trade in all lion parts illegal within the country. The Environment Minister of Botswana, The Honourable Tsekedi Khama, released a statement during CITES, before the plight of the lions was formally discussed saying:

Botswana currently hosts a fair number of lions and we have made a conscious decision that we will not entertain holding any captive carnivores in the country. And the decision was made because it just becomes a habit, an easy area of trade. The more we don’t manage and protect our wildlife, the more they are subject to abuse. My concern is that if we don’t uplist lions to Appendix 1 we run a very real risk of lions eventually being hunted and traded as body parts by unscrupulous people around the world, into extinction.”

The thing that struck a chord with me the most from his statement is the idea that Botswana will not have any captive carnivores within their country. I recently read an interview with Born Free Foundation President Will Travers in Geographical Magazine in which he suggested that wild lions, as we might traditionally think of them; roaming free within protected areas, stalking their prey, etc. could be entirely replaced with lions that exist within fenced areas where every aspect of their lives is intensively managed.

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Within the same interview, Travers seemed to have forecast the outcome of CITES 2016; in explaining that the conference does not concern itself with conservation threats, such as habitat fragmentation, conflict resolution or loss of prey base — it can only apply itself to the impacts of international trade. “There isn’t enough evidence that international trade is the threat”, Travers is quoted as saying, “As we see lion populations decline, so we’re seeing trade in lion parts and derivatives, both legal and illegal, going up significantly from both wild and captive-bred lions.”

After CITES

Looking ahead, I’m interested in knowing what we can do to help protect and preserve lions in the wild, as they should be, between now and the next CITES meeting in 2019. I interviewed lion expert Brent Stapelkamp, who spent nearly a decade working on the Hwange Lion Research Project with the University of Oxford’s WildCRU and whose study subjects included the now infamous Cecil the lion.

Brent saw Cecil the lion’s killing as a chance to talk about conservation efforts to tackle the many threats that lions face, and with a small team of equally passionate individuals, re-visited a concept born 15 years ago, by chimpanzee expert Dr NishidaWorld Heritage Species.

The concept is for UNESCO to create World Heritage Species in the way that it establishes World Heritage Sites for areas of historical significance and/or outstanding natural beauty. “Basically, it’s a global recognition that lions have been too much part of our evolutionary and cultural history to lose,” he explained, “and for that recognition to be used to protect them and generate the massive international funding needed to save their landscapes.”

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It would mean “hands off, this animal belongs to the world and is too precious for a select few to hunt or appreciate,” Brent added. “A long lasting sense that at least somethings are sacred.”

The advantage to investing in an apex predator like a lion is that they are an umbrella species and their survival will mean the survival of their prey and habitats too.

The Cecil legacy

I asked Brent what he thought it was about Cecil, who he had tracked for years, that captured the world’s attention when he was hunted. Cecil had been radio-tracked and studied by Oxford University’s team since 2008 as part of a long-term wild lion research project. But he was lured away from the protection of Hwange National Park, shot by a bow and arrow and reportedly died 40 hours later.

“Cecil’s demise was not a unique event and indeed I saw maybe a dozen such hunts during my decade. I think what made it “blow up” was that those that work around here, be they safari guides, lodge owners or researcher, just said enough is enough. Not again! This hunt was the straw that broke the donkeys back and a lot of people worked very hard to make sure the story saw the light of day. The world just needed to hear it and the rest was, I believe, a natural manifestation around the global attachment to lions.”

The sentiment of this was recently echoed by Mark Jones, Associate Director of Wildlife Policy at Born Free Foundation, who is quoted as saying: “until very recently, everybody seemed to think that there were loads of lions in Africa. What the Cecil incident did was bring to people’s consciousness the reality that these animals are actually being shot by rich Westerners paying lots of money”.

Cecil the Lion

Cecil the Lion

Several countries have been inspired to take significant action since Cecil’s death. France announced a ban on lion trophy imports in November 2015, and in April 2016, The Netherlands announced a ban on the import of hunting trophies from around 200 species, including lions. In January 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service added lions to the Endangered Species Act, making it more difficult for American lion trophy hunters to ship their trophies home.

But even Cecil’s story is not without its conflict amongst conservationists. Stapelkamp explained in our conversation that it was common practice to name their study subjects at Oxford. “It was based on the fact that it was easy to speak about Cecil or Jericho than MAGM1 or GUVbM2; their database identities. Guides and members of the public wouldn’t know what you were on about. We enjoyed naming them too. Some had a lot to do with each personality of the story behind them.”

The concept of naming animals has always divided opinion. Renowned ecologist and lion expert, Craig Packer finds the whole idea of naming lions bizarre. “Normally lions are called things like MH3T or lion LGB,” he said in a recent Guardian article.

“The Cecil story tells me that we, as a species, can only show empathy with individual organisms.”

Craig Packer chairing a debate at the Royal Geographical Society in London

Craig Packer chairing a debate at the Royal Geographical Society in London

But nonetheless, Cecil’s story has helped Packer to lobby the US and EU for control of trophy imports, and he has asked the EU to take into account the corruption in Tanzania and consider banning all trophies from there.

The canned hunting dilemma

“The hunting industry is scared to death they’ll lose the lion.” This sentence, said by Craig Packer at the 2004 CITES conference — where he argued against animal welfare groups that trophy hunting has an indisputable impact on population numbers of wild lions — pretty much sums up the conflict that prevents lions from gaining Appendix 1 CITES protection.

“While your arguments may be flawed, I agree that trophy hunters should be kept on a tight leash.” He reportedly added, back at that 2004 meeting.

Packer, who has since been banned from entering Tanzania for speaking out against corruption in the trophy hunting industry, first went there to study baboons with legendary primatologist Jane Goodall. Since then, he has dedicated his life to study lions.

His book, Lions in the Balance: Man-Eaters, Manes, and Men with Guns, reflects on studies of lions carried out to see whether the trophy hunting industry harms the local populations with its continuous removal of adult males: causing frequent takeovers and infanticide (killing of other males’ cubs) by replacement males, who in turn live only until the next hunting season, and are then shot and replaced themselves.

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He champions regulating hunting using a minimum age (a male should be at least 6 years old before it is hunted) instead of quotas. “In the long term, there is no conflict between business and conservation,” he writes in his book. “Lions are like a crop. Look after them properly, and you can harvest more of them, making lots more money. Just be patient and let the lions grow up.”

To me personally, the exploitation of lions in this way leaves the door open to the same amount of animal welfare issues, as selling off rhino horn stocks and farming rhinos. But Packer believes hunting could provide the best incentive for conserving vast tracks of land.

This is something that Born Free’s Mark Jones has drawn attention to, citing in Geographical Magazine that we don’t understand animal populations well enough to understand what the value of an individual is to its population — regardless of its breeding age — as breeding isn’t the only thing that social animals, like elephants and lions, bring to their population.

He also argues against giving value to trophy hunting outfitters, as he believes that land management will inevitably then prioritise providing trophies over benefiting wider biodiversity — which is essentially what the entire ‘canned hunting’ industry is (i.e. shooting lions in the ‘can’; enclosed areas of unregulated conditions).

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Packer, at a recent event I attended at the Royal Geographical Society in London, also confessed to having seen photos of lion farms where conditions are ‘far below the reasonable minimum standard’.  “Whatever you think of someone who pays to shoot a lion,” he said, “the conditions those lions are kept in have no regulation and should have a minimum standard.”

Even though Packer doesn’t agree that trophy hunting has to necessarily impact the population of wild lions, he does suggest that the hunting industry greatly exaggerates its ‘positive’ impact on wildlife conservation, stating that ‘hunters lie’.

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 “A lot of clients head off into the bush believing that their $50,000 will save the world — when in fact virtually none of that money goes to conservation and the true costs of conservation are far higher.”

According to Mark Jones, the actual data suggests that only around 3% of the money generated by trophy hunting  actually ends up at the community level for development. During one area of Craig Packer’s research, he surveyed 26 villages from Mount Kilimanjaro to the shores of Lake Victoria, and found almost no benefits to local communities from either ecotourism or trophy hunting.

Other threats to the African lion

Canned hunting isn’t the only threat that lions face. Habitat loss has caused the numbers of traditional ‘lion prey’ — herbivores such as zebra, wildebeest and buffalo — to drop by as much as 52% in East Africa, and 85% in West Central Africa.

As prey becomes harder to find, some lions have instead turned to preying on livestock, which can have a major impact on small-scale African farmers. To these people, cattle can represent a life’s savings — creating a direct human-lion conflict, which often leads on to retaliatory killing.

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Packer has encountered lions poisoned with rat poison as intolerance grows. The people poisoning the lions live in fear, or hatred, as the predators have eaten their husbands, wives or children.

As a result, he favours the South African system of conservation, with wildlife effectively kept behind fences and strict regulation. Indeed he ‘unwild’ wild that Will Travers predicted may be the future for the African Lion. “It may feel controlled and over-managed, but it works”, Packer says “and people do not get killed.”

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Solutions

After viewing the issue from all angles, it seems that over the next few years, there will be tough times ahead for Africa’s most iconic predator. “I do think that academia sometimes gets lost within itself and the production of papers, etc. can distract from conservation work,” Stapelkamp contemplates, “that has to be guarded against”.

He has set up a new initiative, The Soft Foot Alliance trust with wife Laurie to help mitigate conflict between man and lion, hyena, elephant, baboon and honey-badger. The aim is to improve local people’s everyday lives with conservation outcomes cleverly designed into each action.

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The positive is that even scientists who remain at odds in their approach ultimately reach a very similar solution. Brent and the World Heritage Species initiative position themselves as neither an organisation, nor an NGO (non-governmental organisation, i.e. non-profit, or charity), but a grass roots, ‘citizen campaign’ and believes that NGOs, such as the Born Free Foundation and research scientists, like Packer can successfully work together under a common goal, like the WHS movement.

“Unless we find a common direction we speak different languages and aim for different targets, and to be quite frank, we can’t afford to waste time anymore.”

Even Packer, who has expressed that ‘animal groups tend to seem religious’, concedes “There are two sides to every argument and both sides are right on certain points.”

“The wider solution is for the world to recognise that the great African wildlife reserves are true world heritage sites and that their protection should be paid out of global funds. They are world treasures yet UNESCO gives no money – there’s no revenue at all. A lot of people have been duped into thinking that just by being a tourist or a hunter, it is enough. It’s not.”

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If you want to sign the petition that calls on the United Nations to establish a World Heritage Species program, you can do so HERE. Keep up-to-date with WHS by following them on Facebook.

Learn more about CITES 2016

Want to know more about CITES 2016?

Want to hear more on Cecil’s story?

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Rescuing lions — an exclusive interview with Captured in Africa

One of the things I love most about blogging is having the opportunity to talk to experts and professionals in conservation about the incredible and inspiring work they are doing.

I recently wrote a post titled Bred for the bullet, which delved into the dark and only recently publicly highlighted industry of trophy hunting, or ‘canned lion hunting’.

Cecil the Lion

The now infamous Cecil the lion

As a brief catch-up, canned hunting refers to lions born and raised in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot for large sums of money. Prices for these canned hunts start at about $17,500 and go as high as $50,000, and the lions involved are always killed within an enclosed area, or whilst sedated, meaning the kill is guaranteed – the lions literally have no escape (see ‘canned’).

Over the last couple of years, I have joined campaigns and demonstrations against this awful practice, attending the premiere of the Born Free Foundation film Blood Lions and marching through the streets of London to deliver a petition to South Africa House as part of the Global March for Lions.

One of the regular faces (and speakers) at these such demos is lion campaigner and conservation champion Paul Tully, pictured below. Paul kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about canned hunting and what organisations, including Captured In Africa Foundation (founded by Drew Abrahamsson and for whom he now works), are doing to help rescue and relocate lions that fall into this brutal industry.

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Paul Tully gives a rallying speech at the Global March for Lions, Trafalgar Square, London

How and why did the foundation start?

Captured In Africa Foundation was established by my colleague Drew Abrahamson to support rescue / relocation work, but to also support our various conservation partners in the field.

Over the years, Drew has become a key individual in the fight for Africa’s lions and big cats. Having carried out and facilitated many rescues and relocations of both wild & captive lions, Drew has somewhat become one of the go-to professionals when dealing with issues affecting big cats — whether it’s a wild lion or leopard requiring intervention (to possibly be relocated, for example), or a captive bred lion in need of a safe home (many are horribly bred for the tourist petting industry, so situations often call to get them out of where they are and to a far safer environment of an ethical sanctuary).

The foundation also uses it’s position of working with leading conservationists and non-profits on the ground and include our various contacts and efforts within the tourism industry, to ensure that funds, equipment and even advice is channelled responsibly and to the people who need it most. I can’t tell you the amount of times people ask us where best to travel to that doesn’t allow hunting, or people searching for an ethical volunteer project for example. So the foundation is a fantastic well-rounded organisation to help the public.

“It’s a passion to help wildlife, not a job”

 

What is your role at Captured in Africa?

My main role is at Captured In Africa is as Sales and Marketing Manager for the safari side of the company (we have a big emphasis on responsible tourism and conservation), my role has now also taken on our foundation, which I was happy to take on and help free of charge really — it’s a passion to help wildlife, not a job. Selling safaris is also a passion, I love it because I get to do two amazing things in one with Captured In Africa. What we do at Captured In Africa and what we do at the foundation is one, there’s no separating them as they both channel into each other to ultimately benefit the wildlife we help and support.

 

What has been the most interesting or insightful project that you have been a part of?

I’ve been in the background helping where I could help on previous relocations, but the most interesting project for me personally was our latest relocation of a rescued circus lion from Spain; Natacha. Mainly because it was the first project to fall under the Captured In Africa Foundation umbrella — although Drew has been carrying out such rescues and relocations for some time now, to see everything come together, the public support and enthusiasm to help this one lion, it makes you think: imagine what our foundation could do for all lions and Big Cats?!

© Drew Abrahamson / www.capturedinafrica.com

© Drew Abrahamson / http://www.capturedinafrica.com

How many rescues or relocations have the team carried out? Have these all been Big Cats?

Big Cats is the focus of the foundation, it’s the same as our safaris, where we advocate and raise awareness of Big Cat issues. Big Cats are where our hearts are, and rightfully so. Species such as elephants and rhinos are in the spotlight due to poaching and the ivory / horn trade, however, Big Cats have almost gone unnoticed for quite a while.

I think that’s why Cecil the lion was such a large widespread issue… lions were suddenly in the spotlight and most of the world didn’t even realise that lions were in such decline and under such threats as land loss, poaching, conflict with humans and hunting. 20,000 lions left in the whole of Africa, someone has to do something about that — the Captured In Africa Foundation hope to do just that.

Drew: There have been 15 rescues to date. Not all have made it & some are in the beginning stages as well as in the near future. They have all been Lions.

“I couldn’t just sit back and see others battling to save wildlife do it alone, they need support.”

 

 Why is there a need for these relocations?

Drew: The need comes from either a volunteer realising the lion they have cared for is in danger, so they want to ‘rescue’ it and make sure it goes to a safe home, or the lions being confiscated by authorities. In the case of wild lions relocations, it’s out of necessity as the current reserve would have reached their carrying capacity. So instead of culling, they would rather find a safe home.

There are also many private ownership issues [Big Cats kept as pets] that are often not even spoken of in South Africa, yet we know they happen. Last year, for example, an image was circulated of a tiger cub at a home just outside Johannesburg — it received a lot of attention, which resulted in no action, sadly. But it’s still legal to own such animals. CIA Foundation will only intervene when the cat has been confiscated and sometimes locally with regards to trying to negotiate the with owners to hand the Big Cats over to a sanctuary.

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Drew Abrahamson talks about the main issues affecting big cats. © Drew Abrahamson / http://www.capturedinafrica.com

 What organisations do you work with to carry out the rescues?

Drew: The local relocations have been self-driven, however, the foundation has a close working relationship with various sanctuaries in SA. As far as international goes, we work closely with Four Paws International and Born Free Foundation on different cats issues, but not necessarily rescues. In Spain we also work with CJ and Luis at Chelui4Lions on the confiscation cases.

 

And back to Paul, What does doing this work mean to you?

Being mainly based in England, I’m not always physically there to support these rescues and relocations, but it’s often not about that. I recently wrote online that you don’t need to be in Africa to help African wildlife (or anything for that matter), you can help where your skills fit best… you just need that feeling of wanting to right the wrongs in this world.

If I can play a part by backing up my colleague Drew, marketing a rescue, facilitating communications between parties, organising fundraising campaigns, anything… to play any kind of role means a great deal to me… I couldn’t just sit back and see others battling to save wildlife do it alone, they need support. So I’m proud to be able to do that.

Captured In Africa Foundation will have a positive impact on big cat conservation for sure, it takes a lot of time and effort, but when you have great support, we can all achieve so much good for Africa’s wildlife.

For more information about Captured in Africa and their latest news, check out their blog here.

 

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Bred for the bullet

“I remember the heat and that heavy atmosphere which made me certain that at any moment there would be a crash of thunder and the heavens would open. The air smelled like mud, but the ground below my heavy walking boots was solid as a rock. I didn’t care if it rained, I’m not even sure I’d have noticed if it did, because the ranger in front was beckoning me forward. My heart was racing and my eyes were fixed. About 10ft ahead was a wild lioness looking right at me. I wasn’t in a vehicle or behind a fence, but I was there in the African wild, with nothing between us. It was my first game walk and I knew that moment would never leave me.”

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Written almost five years ago, this is how my first ever post on this blog reads. It’s true that I was in awe, and those kinds of moments never leave you. Painfully, they come back all the more prominently when you watch a documentary like Blood Lions.

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Blood Lions, a film associated with Born Free Foundation, had its official launch at the Royal Geographical Society last Friday, having been initially screened on the Discovery Channel on 28th October.

It follows environmental journalist and safari operator Ian Michler, and American hunter Rick Swazey to expose the grim details of South Africa’s hunting industry.

Unlike the well documented hunt of Cecil the lion, most of the lions that get shot for ‘sport’ (apparently two to three a DAY!) are bred for the bullet.

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I protested against the practice; commonly know as ‘canned hunting’ back in March, and for those who missed that, ‘canned hunting’ or ‘bred for bullet’ refers to lions born and raised in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot for large sums of money.

Prices for these canned hunts start at about $17,500 and go as high as $50,000, and the lions involved are always killed within an enclosed area, or whilst sedated, meaning the kill is guaranteed – the lions literally have no escape (see ‘canned’).

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The practice also falls under the name ‘trophy hunting’, as hunters pay for the privilege to take the heads and skins home, while many of the bones reportedly make their way to China and other countries for use in traditional Asian medicine; a huge and damaging trade.

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Whilst these details are awful enough, Blood Lions goes further to expose an even more shocking reality; that many volunteer organisations and walk with/pet the lions tourist attractions in South Africa feed into this vile industry.

Unsuspecting wildlife-loving volunteers and tourists looking for an authentic experience with the local wildlife could find themselves duped into being involved in a cycle that sees cubs snatched from their mothers at just days old (allowing her to come back into season quicker); hand-reared, cuddled and fed by humans (so that they become accustomed to us and build a relationship of trust); and used for ‘walk with lions’ experiences — just to ensure that breeders (aka lion farmers) get every last penny from their ‘product’, before they are forced to live their last few moments (sometimes hours, if it’s not a clean kill) writhing in agony, or staring down the barrel of a gun held by the very hands that they trust to feed them: human hands.

Literature handed out at the march

Conscious that my previous post was a review of the press screening of Racing Extinction, I want to refrain from talking too much about the film itself, though I’d urge you to watch it; its impact deserves to mirror that of The Cove (prior to the release of The Cove, 23,000 dolphins were killed each year in Japan; now that number has been slashed to 6,000). Instead, I’d like to talk about the events it inspired.

The day after the screening and panel talk at the Royal Geographic Society, I joined the next instalment of The Global March for Lions.

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Numbers had certainly grown since March’s demonstration and the message (fuelled by Cecil the lion‘s fate and the previous day’s screening of Blood Lions) was clear: the UK does not support the canned hunting industry!

I took the chance to enforce my #Startwith1thing pledge; to promote animal-friendly tourism, as I can’t think of anything any more damaging to both animals and the tourism industry than canned hunting and the lie that it parades.

imageLearning that many places that promote themselves as offering conservation-based volunteer work are actually duping well-meaning animal advocates into supporting a trade that depends upon lions trusting humans, in order to make them an easy target, is a hard pill to swallow.

And one that forces me to look back on my time spent volunteering at Shamwari Game Reserve in 2008.

I’d chosen Shamwari as it’s home to two Born Free Foundation sanctuaries (one of which is the Julie Ward Education Centre), and the package deal I’d booked using Worldwide Experience was linked directly to the Born Free website. Everything was legitimate and trustworthy in terms of my volunteering. But I can’t help but wonder, in light of a new understanding of the trophy hunting industry, whether some of my independently booked weekend day trips were a little questionable.

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I believe that if I speak about these issues, I have a duty to expose my own ignorance and mistakes, because taking responsibility is the first step in moving forward.

The weekend trips I booked on my days off from the reserve in South Africa were discovered mainly through leaflets left at Madolas Lodge (my accomodation during my three month volunteer period), mainly by former volunteers.

The two places where I interacted with big cats were Daniell Cheetah Project (where the above picture was taken) and Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre (see picture below); and if the advice on Bloodlions.org is anything to go by, these places are probably not what I thought they were:

Petting, Walking with Lions and Volunteering

Q: Do any of the facilities that offer petting and walking with lions have any conservation value?

A: No, these facilities are merely using lions as a lucrative revenue stream. In many cases, cubs are taken away from their mothers within the first week after birth and are then rented out or used to lure day visitors and volunteers. Once the cubs get to about four months old, they are then often used in ‘walking with lions’ programmes. Once they have reached adulthood, many will be sold to breeders and collectors, or they end up being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunts. None of these lions can ever be used in conservation projects.

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Although I have come to understand the flaws of a ‘captivity for education‘ mentality, it’s still hard for me to comprehend this advice, especially as Daniell Cheetah Project states that its “aim of the project is to play a part in conservation of the Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus), the re-establishment of pure gene lines” (I’d be interested in hearing anyone who’s more educated on these things’ opinion of this), which is what attracted me to visit the centre in the first place.

A little more research suggests that although it may have a chequered history entwined with canned hunting (whether aware or not, who’s to say?), DCP has become an ambassador against canned hunting:

 

Whilst I can have no sure way of telling the fate of the lovely little lion cub that I held in the photo above, there is at least some sense of peace in knowing that now under the spotlight, no more of these beautiful animals can make their way from DCP to a mount on someone’s wall.

A long delve through the pages of Google this week, in preparation for this article, interestingly revealed  a connection between DCP and the second centre I visited; Tenikwa Awareness Centre.

One article read:

Tenikwa, a centre just outside Plettenberg Bay that cares for and rehabilitates injured or abandoned wild animals, has been Chester’s home for the past eight years after the cheetah had a rocky start in life.

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Chester was born at the Daniell Cheetah Breeding Centre near Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape. “The female cheetah was inexperienced and had her cubs out in the veld in very bad winter weather. One cub died during the night and I was asked to go up and raise the two remaining cubs. I arrived on Chester’s second day of life. The second cub was too weak to sustain and passed away, leaving only Chester,” she said.

It was a nerve-wracking experience, especially in light of the fact that mortality among cheetah cubs is about 80 percent.

“Chester, however, survived, and grew up to be a strong and healthy cheetah.”

Because he was born in captivity, Chester was not suitable for release and became part of the Tenikwa programme.

Given that the article describes the centre as rehabilitating injured or abandoned wild animals, I’m wondering where the makers of Blood Lions stand on Tenikwa, which states that its rehabilitation work is primarily funded out of gate-takings to the Awareness Centre, where it offers various programs for the public to see non–releasable indigenous Wild cats of Southern Africa and other wildlife often caught up in the human-wildlife conflict.

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Putting cheetahs to bed at Tenikwa Awareness Centre

Its website says: “Through tourism and guests visiting Tenikwa, the Rehabilitation Centre has evolved to its present state with a specialized wildlife clinic and surgery as well as several specialised enclosures and treatment rooms. Today, Tenikwa Rehabilitation Centre is one of the largest Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres in the Western Cape, and one of the few in the world that admits both marine and terrestrial species.”

The description kind of reminds me of Australia Zoo, which on the one hand keeps animals confined to tiny cages and allows the distressing practice of petting koalas, and on the other, runs an incredible animal hospital responsible saving many individuals of various species. A contradiction in terms indeed.

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Interestingly, I came across a conservation blog this week, Make extinction extinct, which contain a post on canned hunting that listed ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of South Africa’s volunteer programmes. Daniell Cheetah Project made the good list, while Tenikwa made the ugly (owning to dubious care of monkey, rather than a mention of lions).

I would love to hear from Born Free Foundation, Lion Aid, or the makers of Blood Lions as to what they would say about these places, and what advice they would give 18 year old volunteers in need of a little guidance, like I was then!

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If you get the chance to watch Blood Lions, please, please do, as it’s message is both powerful and important. A huge advocate in education, I asked Michaela Strachan, wife of Blood Lions Co-Director Nick Chevallier, at the documentary’s premiere night “How can we get such an important message to children without giving them nightmares?” and her response was: “We’d be wasting our time, as it will be too late for South Africa’s lions by the time they’re old enough to act upon it.”

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We MUST stop scenes like this by educating the public.

 

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In the spirit of Elsa, Christian and Cecil

‘Animal activist’ is never a title I’ve given myself, but it’s one that’s been applied to me on a few occasions recently and suppose in many senses of the word, it’s true.

I never intended to caught up in the world of politics – governmental nor organisational, but I’m beginning to understand that the deeper you delve, the harder it is to bury your head in the sand.

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Saturday night I attended ‘An evening for the lions’ at St Pancras Church, held by the wonderful charity Lion Aid. The event was a mixture of music, poetry and celebrity speeches, interspersed with video messages from prominent conservation figures, including the likes of BBC Wildlife Magazine’s number 1 conservation hero; and star of the late producer; Bill Travers’ documentary series The World of Animal Behaviour: Jane Goodall.

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Understandably the story of Cecil was a driving force of the evening; a vehicle for raising the issues of trophy hunting and canned lion hunting — practises that have long been happening, and equally long been protested against (I campaigned against this very issue in April this year) — and Cecil’s story provided a great introduction to rousing speeches from the likes of Game of Thrones star James Cosmo and Born Free Foundation’s very own Dominic Dyer; a regular voice in the ‘animal activism’ world.

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Cecil is, of course, not the first lion to capture the world’s imagination, but such individuals that play so wonderfully into the hands of ‘compassionate conservation’ approaches, like that adopted by Born Free Foundation (focussing on the individual cases to highlight population need) only come around once in a blue moon, and in a bittersweet way, they provide a brilliant means by which to help children understand some of the things that are happening in the world — something I am very proud to be a part of in my job.

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There are two other such individual lions who spring to mind for having captured the world’s imagination and driven the conservation message in ways most animal campaigners pray for: Elsa, of Born Free fame — her infamous rehabilitation from hand-reared cub to Joy and George Adamson’s global beacon of hope that once-captive animals can learn how to be wild —and Christian, ‘the Harrods lion’; famous for his wild reunion with former owners Ace Bourke and John Rendall.

Four and a half decades later, the moment captured by Born Free actor — and Born Free Foundation co-founder, Bill Travers, for his documentary: Christian: The Lion at World’s End, went viral on social media.

Having met John Rendall at Pride in the Park last year, it was fantastic to see him again at the inspiring Lion Aid event last weekend, for which he shared memories of his time with Christian and the formidable force that was George Adamson’s life and spirit.

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Hearing the heartfelt calls for action, teamed with the beautiful ‘Draw out the lion in you’ artwork on display, created by children and the odd celebrity, I found myself reconnecting with the roots of why conservation is so important to me, and forgetting all the about the ‘politics’ of animal activisim.

I’ve really enjoyed exploring the link between a love for wildlife and creating ‘animal art’ recently, having visited a long admired artist, Pollyanna Pickering’s, Summer exhibition earlier in the year and holding my own World of Wildlife exhibition in July, which contained artwork created over the last 10 years (pictured below).

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Going back to these roots and thinking about spreading conservation messages creatively, rather than politically, has been an exciting experience and one that definitely seems to inspire me.

Entries to the children's art competition, held as part of my exhibition

One of the young visitors to my exhibition last month, submitted a wonderful ‘zentangle’ lion drawing (shown above) to the 10 – 16 year old category art competition, judged by Will Travers. Following the exhibition she also created a zentangle re-imaging of the Born Free logo.

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Katie Parfett’s work and new interest in Born Free Foundation really touched me, and I decided to do an ‘artwork exchange’; sending her one of my original drawings in exchange for permission to hang copies of her (featured) pieces in my house; as my way of celebrating World Lion Day.

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The satisfaction of such a pure way of exchanging interests; away from internet logins and NGO (non-governmental organisations) disputes, has also seen me return to a former project I worked on in my mid-teens — a Big Cat study inspired by BBC’s Big Cat Week that turned from a simple after school project into a 200-odd page study complete with hand-drawn diagrams and eagerly collected photography and illustrations.

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Inevitably, with about five-planned pages to go, my GCSEs took over and the project got shelved. Ten years later, I feel both compelled (thanks to Lion Aid’s evening for lions) and inspired (thanks to a renewed interest in artwork) to finally finish it. And if the politics of being an ‘animal activist’ become distracting, I can always turn to the words of Virginia Mckenna in her autobiography, The Life in My Years:

“I have a second family, many of whom I have travelled with the past quarter of a century. My Born Free family. Elsa, the lioness, is the true mother of this family. We are her children, her descendents, her messengers, carrying her story and her spirit with us into people’s minds and hearts. Or trying to. Some people welcome us. Some are confused. Others stare, uncomprehending. Others show their contempt. Or laugh. It is of no consequence.”

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Cecil is only the start.

I get told constantly that greed is all around us. But I disagree.
Greed lurks in corners and congregates in old buildings with fancy architecture.
Greed is an opportunist, a parasite on the good-natured and ill-informed, but it’s not everywhere.

It’s a feeder on ignorance; without ignorance, greed’s lineage is cut short.

Greed’s voice is loud, which is why we can feel encompassed by it, but a loud voice is no less a lone one.

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This week the world winced and mourned when a 13-year-old lion named Cecil died at the hands of a trophy hunter. Unlike many reporting on the incident, I don’t feel inclined to mention his name, his nationality, or the price of the kill.

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It wasn’t a nationality that sort a trophy, it wasn’t an individual that structured an entire trade (or system that relied upon it) nor was it a price tag that caused a culture of killing for sport. And when the beautiful Cecil has left our newspapers and our thoughts; endless, nameless lions will face the same fate, unnoticed. I know because it’s already happening.

It’s been happening for a long time.

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Back in April, I joined #GlobalMarchforLions demonstration at Trafalgar Square, culminating in the delivery of a petition to South Africa House, to call for an end to canned hunting, and lion ‘farming’ being advertised as a tourist activity.

One of the main things I wrote about at the time was how difficult it was to find the right information about hunting and canned hunting (animals ‘bred for the bullet’ in farms).

The only good thing to come out of the loss of Cecil is the opportunity to have those conversations (see above), of which Born Free Foundation’s Dom Dyer seems to be at the helm. The same Dom Dyer that rallied the campaigners back in April.

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The difference between now and the springtime march, is that now we have the whole world paying attention. We have a hero, a villain, a victim and a mob; created by the media, and no doubt the papers will neatly round up this tale with a resolve: someone will be prosecuted, someone will pay the price, justice will be served. Except it won’t, for the hundreds or thousands more creatures that will face this fate if we don’t make the story bigger than Cecil, about more than greed.

Born Free Foundation anti-trophy hunting creative advertising campaign

I read the following on The Telegraph’s website this week:

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Now that’s probably the single most greed-fuelled take on Cecil’s story that I have heard, but remember how I said a loud voice is no less a lone voice?

I also said an individual did not structure a trade, and I too believe that an individual cannot end it. But good can prevail over greed if good people come together to make a difference, and over the last week, that’s exactly what I’ve been seeing!

imageMany voices coming together over one cause, against the minority who have the means, money and lack of compassion to continue baiting and killing wild beasts. Against the greedy.

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I asked Nick Stephenson to perform the song ‘Born Free’ at my World of Wildlife Exhibition at the start of the month, and he’s allowed me to share a recording of it here; in retaliation to those words: “Cecil the lion was born free… if you care about animals, privatise them”

Want to come together and make a difference?
Here’s a couple of ways to join forces to triumph over greed:

Sign the Petition to stop global airline companies from transporting dead, endangered species “trophies” around the world. If airlines refused, illegal trophy hunters would be stuck and the lions would be safe. Emirates has already announced a ban — others need to join them without delay!

Or join the Lion Aid march on the terrace above Trafalgar Square in London on August 22nd at 3pm!

See you there, to roar loudly! Together.

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