In March 1, 2011, seven animal rights organizations filed a petition to list all African lion as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The organizations are the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Humane Society International, The Born Free Foundation and its affiliate Born Free USA, Defenders of Wildlife and the Fund for Animals.
The petition acknowledges Dereck and Beverly Joubert for their “invaluable assistance on the petition.” The week before, the film The Last Lions premiered in Washington, DC. That is a National Geographic Entertainment production which credits HSUS as a financial contributor, among others. The Last Lions was produced by the Jouberts as well. Joubert is a radical anti-hunter who claimed a significant role in eliminating lion hunting in Botswana and has tried to end all hunting there and would if he could have his way. The documentary was filmed in Botswana, Joubert’s longtime home base of operation.
The six-page petition cites statistics from a number of authoritative sources, much of which has arisen from papers and documents developed in conjunction with efforts of the hunting community to conserve lion. It is our data. Nevertheless, most of the representations and conclusions made are dramatizations. For example, in 2008 the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classified the lion as “vulnerable,” which is more equivalent to “threatened” under the ESA, not endangered, if equivalent at all. That was on the formula basis that lion may have declined up to 30 percent over two decades.
The anti’s petition goes on to state the lion’s “population size and range are in alarming and precipitous decline.” It then draws its own conclusion that lion have really declined 48.5 percent over 22 years, which is a position rejected by the IUCN Cat Specialist Group. Although some lion may still be in slight decline, it is not precipitous. Its total range and habitat are enormous due to the existence of hunting areas, as well as national and tri-national parks. The petitioners claim only five viable populations of lion exist, but should have said that no less than five populations of 1,000 to 5,000 in number exist, which are projected to exist over the long term.
The worst misrepresentations in the petition are about the effects if lion are listed. They misrepresent that the “listing of the entire subspecies as Endangered would meaningfully contribute to lion conservation” because it “would allow the United States to support all range countries in their efforts to protect lion habitat and eliminate threats to the subspecies.” To the contrary, the habitat protection provisions of the ESA and other domestic benefits don’t apply to foreign listed species. The listing would not assist the foreign management authorities. However, it would over their objections, decimate their sustainable-use based conservation strategies and would itself cause a decline of most lion habitat and conservation funding.
Five times in the six pages the petitioners suggest and state that the “listing would provide…an analysis of whether the import would in fact enhance the propagation or survival of the subspecies when trophies are imported.” To the contrary, it is not the practice or the policy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USF&WS) to permit hunting trophy imports of endangered listed species taken in the wild. Witness the continued denial of import permits for the leopard in Francophone Africa that are still listed as endangered, the wood bison, black rhino, endangered listed argali, Suleiman markhor, cheetah, etc. If the USF&WS will not grant permits for the Suleiman markhor taken in the world-renowned Torghar Project in Pakistan, enhancement permits can’t be done, much less permitted in sufficient quantity to generate the revenue to justify the current level of habitat. The treachery of this misrepresentation is most evident in the fact that these anti-hunting organizations have always been the first and most vociferous opponents of the issuance of enhancement permits for any endangered listed species whenever it has been suggested.
The petition also concludes that three of the 30 countries that had lion as recently as 2008 no longer have any today, which is not true as the related studies were only of select, protected populations within those countries.
The largest section of the petition is that related to “overutilization.” It includes the Republic of South African’s (RSA) lion export statistics and claims lion hunting harvest is increasing. Of course, there has been an attempted sell-off of ranched lion in RSA. No doubt lion harvests have been up in RSA in anticipation of closure of hunting of intensively managed lion.
Conservation Force and partners are preparing to contend with this petition if it survives the 90-day review. In that case we will probably have a 60-day period to file comments. We have to oppose this listing; else the lion will be reduced to vermin. The primary threats to the lion are loss of habitat and prey, conflict with livestock and humans, and poaching. The import of its trophies contributes to most of its existing habitat and prey, creates local tolerance and reduces poaching. In short, licensed, regulated hunting counters the forces harming the lion and the hunting community has become the Ducks Unlimited of the African Lion. The greatest threat to the long-term survival of the lion is the listing petition itself. We don’t need anymore listings like the cheetah. Please help by sending tax-deductible contributions to Conservation Force at PO Box 278, Metairie, LA 70004-0278; or contribute with a credit card online at http://www.conservation force.org/donateonline.html.