There can be no pretense. In order to save African lion from being uplisted to CITES Appendix I, national action plans for lion conservation must be adopted. And hunters should rightfully have a seat in the workshops to develop those plans and be partners in their implementation.
I announced the campaign to complete those action plans in all four regions of Africa in the November 2008 Conservation Force Bulletin. That campaign has not fared well. Although action plans are finally being adopted over much of Southern and Eastern Africa (at least in draft form), not one has been even drafted in Central or Western Africa. That hole is big enough to sink the whole ship at the next CITES Conference of the Parties, CoP 15, in January 2010. Worse, the non-consumptive action plan adopted by Kenya (apparently the very first plan drafted) is being touted as the model to follow in critical countries.
The necessary field studies in Central and Western Africa had to commence in the January/February dry season, else they could not be completed this year. Had Conservation Force not commenced those field studies and instigated others, the hunting community would be going into the next CITES CoP (two CoPs since the last attempt to uplist lion) with too little product.
At the drop-dead point in time in the last week of January 2009, yours truly resorted to pleading and begging to make this happen. Five lion conservation heroes from the safari hunting industry reached into their pockets and wired $60,000 to Conservation Force. Imagine this in light of the state of the economy!
The heroes, in the order they donated, are: Eric Pasanisi for Tangan- yika Safaris in the amount of $20,000, Michel Mantheakis for Miombo Safaris in the amount of $10,000, Danny McCallum for Danny McCallum Safaris Tanzania in the amount of $10,000, and Raoul Ramoni in the amount of $15,000. We were still $5,000 short to commence the fieldwork in at least three of the four chosen countries. The International Professional Hunters Association, IPHA, came through with that $5,000 only days after already providing Conservation Force with its annual $5,000 supporting contribution, which is necessary for our operating/survival costs. That extra $5,000 left IPHA practically no balance in its own operating account! These leaders and stewards of the hunting world reacted!
Within 24 hours of receiving the funds, the directors of wildlife in the respective countries and the lion authorities were informed, and the work was initiated. The groundwork had months before been approved by the respective wildlife authorities, but everyone, including them, had nearly given up, as Kenya and protectionists started filling the vacuum.
Now that we have launched the whole project and hired the experts and vehicles necessary in three countries, the worry is that we need at least $200,000 more by April. Approximately $40,000 has come in or is promised in sums of $50 to $5,000. Conservation Force has taken nothing for itself, no out-of-pocket costs, no fees - nothing. This is a true crisis that must be addressed. In these lean times it must be done purposefully and smartly.
The lion authorities and conservation community have taken note of the extreme effort and importance of the initiative. The recognition of the safari hunting industry is having a positive effect that may save more than the African lion. If this was not such a serious crisis, it could be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate the caring role of the hunter. We thank you all so very much. You are indeed the heroes of African lion conservation!