The WAP Complex is the stronghold of West African lions, sprawling three West African countries.
Conservation Force opposed the endangered ESA listing of the lion in West Africa on the legal basis that the population was not "significant" enough to warrant listing and had not been for a very long time. Nevertheless, the subspecies was listed as endangered (over the objection of certain range nations), and that listing is expected to have the perverse negative effect we were trying to avoid. There is one thing that may save those lion.
Research demonstrates the benefits
of hunting in a lion hot spot in West Africa. A research article published by a team including Conservation Force Board Member Philippe Chardonnet explains the benefits: Embargo on Lion Hunting Trophies from West Africa: An Effective Measure or a Threat to Lion Conservation?
PLOS ONE, May 2016. This paper evaluates the impact of lion hunting in West Africa's W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) Complex. It concludes the hunting is not detrimental, and in fact, generates necessary incentives to maintain the WAP complex as the last stronghold for lion in West Africa.
The WAP is a transboundary conservation area of 33,000 km2 across Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger. It is an oasis of wildlife, with stable or increasing populations of lion, leopard, elephant, and other species. Its ecosystem comprises national parks (58.6%), hunting areas (40.6%), and game reserves (0.8%). Almost 90% of West Africa's remaining lion inhabit the WAP, and its estimated population exceeds 400 adults and sub-adults.
Regulated hunting has been permitted in Burkina Faso since 1996 and in Benin since 2001. Concessions are leased for 20 and 10 years, respectively. Each government has devolved responsibility for management and protection to the operators-resulting in "strong increases" in wildlife over the past 15 to 20 years. (The government maintains responsibility for quota-setting.) Operators must distribute three-quarters of harvested meat and 30 to 50% of hunting fees to neighboring communities. Lawful hunting is restricted to tracking by nonresidents on a 21-day hunt, and lawful trophies must be six years of age or older. This system generates crucial conservation revenues, which have increased recently because both the minimum hunt length and permit fee was increased.
The paper evaluated the number of lion harvested per year, per block; the initial harvest intensity; and the estimated population of lion based on a 2014 spoor density survey. It found the lion harvest to be stable over the past 16 years. In 10 of 16 hunting areas, the number of lion harvested increased-but so did the estimated number of lion. There was no significant difference in spoor densities between the national parks and hunting areas in the WAP.
Perhaps most surprisingly, hunting areas with higher harvest rates had the highest lion densities. The researchers postulated that these areas "generally benefit from favorable management, and/or abundant water availability, usually hosting more large herbivores." This attracted lion: "Therefore, any negative impacts on the lion population arising from hunting appear to be either minimal or to be offset by management that protects and fosters populations of both lions and their prey."
In conclusion, the paper identified several management lessons. First, the hunting sector's involvement benefited wildlife in the WAP Complex because it funded proper enforcement and management, as compared to other "protected" areas in West Africa that lack resources and are "protected" on paper only.
Second, the "first driver of wild population depletion is not poaching … but the unequal distribution of water … during the dry season." In Burkina Faso, private hunting operators have almost quadrupled the range available during the dry season by maintaining approximately 30 water points. That represents a huge gain for water-dependent species like lion.
And third, hunting generates 99% of revenues from the wildlife industry in the WAP. The lion is the most valuable species hunted. Because of this, "restrictions on lion hunting may reduce tolerance for lion in communities where local people benefit from trophy hunting and reduce funds available for anti-poaching and management activities … loss of revenue will affect the WAP's self-supporting financial capacities and reduce the competitiveness of wildlife-based land uses relative to ecologically unfavorable alternatives."Put simply, hunting, and particularly lion hunting, has been sustaining the last stronghold in West Africa for lion, prey and other species. There is no viable alternative, and if the hunting disappears, so will the lion. Although the lion in the study are listed as endangered, Conservation Force is considering an initiative to reestablish the import of those lion hunting trophies under the "enhancement" import permit policy that we pioneered for endangered black rhino, markhor, and wood bison. Before we embark on such a task we need someone of means to step up and pledge a substantial tax-deductible contribution to fund the project. We hesitate to start such an effort without serious dedicated support. Will anyone out there fund this enhancement effort? If so, contact John J. Jackson, III, at email@example.com