Save it By Killing it

Save it By Killing it

Background photo by Dan  Pero.
Background photo by Dan Pero.
Sports hunting’s opposition to “listing” the African lion as an endangered species is a battle royale that unmasks the industry’s indifference to real conservation.

The Asian lion, nearly extinct in India and Nepal, was declared an endangered species in 1970. In July of this year the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the agency charged with implementing America’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), announced it was considering listing the African lion in the same way it had listed the Asian lion in 1970.

(FWS, ESA, CITES are all magnificent but confusing. After this blog, below, I try to untangle them for you.)

FWS is acting in response to a request by five U.S. organizations: International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the Born Free Foundation/Born Free USA, and the Defenders of Wildlife and Fund for Animals

These organizations are reacting to a steep decline in lion populations documented especially over the last decade. The decline is related to a number of factors, some of which I’ve discussed in earlier blogs, but basically it boils down to a squeezing down of the size of the African wild as African countries develop so rapidly.

If FWS does “list” lion, it will have several immediate effects. The first is that zoos, circuses and a few individuals who own and possibly breed lion in the U.S. will be further regulated in how they do so.

There is little opposition to this, because the regulations are already pretty tight and zoo organizations are well allied to the EPA.

The second, though, has caused an explosion of opposition: Sports hunters will no longer be able to bring their “lion trophy” home.

As with elephant, today, a hunter could still go over to Africa and shoot a lion where a given country allowed it, but anything but the photograph of his hunt would have to be left behind.

A third but possibly the most important effect of such an FWS “listing” would come a bit later: That would be the similar “listing” of African lion as endangered by a world treaty, CITES. That would essentially end lion hunting throughout the world.

The opposition has exploded. I won’t cite all the sports hunting, NRA related and other organization that have gone ballistic. Just give Google a few words and you’ll spend your next month reading through them.

But I am appalled, however, that National Geographic editorialized against “listing” by citing a Tanzanian game reserve that it claimed was dependent upon “$75 million dollars annually from lion hunting.”

NatGeo took up the most prevalent argument around that listing the lion will turn off a spigot of development funds derived from hunting that is essential for conservation, and lion conservation in particular.

The research center NatGeo quoted is a part of the remarkably corrupt Tanzania Wildlife Department, and there’s not a scientist on earth that trusts them.

NatGeo cited three lion experts in the editorial. Paula White, director of the Zambia Lion Project, was one. Zambia as a country has just banned lion hunting and prior to that ban it was earning as much if not more than Tanzania in lion hunts. Kenya has banned all hunting since 1979, and both its lion population and its tourism has grown substantially since.

The second expert cited is the widely respected Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota. In 2010 Packer and two others published a paper in Conservation Biology that gave the Tanzanian government five steps that it must undertake if it were to continue allowing the hunting of lion.

The government has taken none of them.

But what is most of an affront to those of us who read NatGeo in the crib is that the editorial is written by an official of Safari Club International, the world’s largest hunting organization.

NatGeo, as I’ve said before, has gone the way of the Wall Street Journal and Congress. Just survey its weekly fare on its cable channel to confirm this.

Even the New York Times on its op-ed page allowed un-fact-checked statements by a Tanzanian official that were quickly pointed out fallacious by LionAid in the UK.

As any scientist will confirm, animal numbers in Africa are very hard to come by. Government statistics are poorly collected and compiled and often just made up. Tanzania is probably the worst example. So it is hard to wholeheartedly embrace LionAid any more than the Tanzanian government as they duke out numbers.

But the best statistics documented, by researchers like Packer, whose studied recommendations for lion conservation are then wholly disregarded by Tanzanian officials, suggests that those officials are the least likely to present good evidence.

My point in this blog is to argue that “banning hunting” is not going to harm conservation. I think Fish & Wildlife is well advised to consider that banning lion hunting will, in fact, promote conservation. It’s hard to imagine why banning the killing of a species in decline won’t be of some use, if not serious aid.

The recent moves by Botswana and Zambia, and the long history that Kenya has with banned hunting, provide warehouses of proof that banning hunting is a good conservation tool.

The pitiful attempts to enlist academic support for the opposition, as evidenced in the fallacious articles in NatGeo and on the op-ed page of the Times, is just further proof that facts mean little to an industry, which like those supporting the NRA, may be severely hurt by the listing.

So their real colors come out, their ire is fired, when their principal goal, hunting, is challenged.

No, you cannot save lion by killing them.

Endangered species is a somewhat complicated topic. America’s current Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was signed by President Nixon as a replacement of a 1969 law which had a rough start and rocky judicial test.

The ‘73 law went all the way to the Supreme Court where it was strongly affirmed, and it has been the law governing the protection of endangered species in the U.S. ever since.

Parallel to the American experience, the world as a whole was formulating a treaty that would protect species worldwide. Its first draft was in 1963, but after the American law was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1973, CITES was also formed in 1973 and now has 180 subscriber nations including the U.S.

While it’s not wholly true that CITES walks in lock-step with ESA, particularly in the last decade, it does tend to “list” species after ESA does.

This only makes sense, because what CITES does is ban the international trade of the species listed. ESA, on the other hand, has much more power within the U.S. It can stop the development of a dam, for instance, or forbid hunting even in a private forest, if it finds a species is being threatened by that action.

And because America remains the largest economy in the world, whatever ESA “lists” becomes easier for CITES to enforce if it “lists” the same species.