Bangkok, Thailand—The African lion is in trouble, a fact agreed upon by all respected conservationists. The dispute arises when determining the best strategy to ensure the long-term viability of the species.
At the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Kenya has proposed acting with appropriate precaution regarding Africa's lions, and is urging the 166 CITES nations to "up-list" the species from Appendix II of the Convention to Appendix I. An Appendix I listing would prohibit international commercial trade in the species and ensure greater regulation of trade in general—it would not, however, ban trophy hunting as some opponents have mistakenly claimed.
"Kenya's proposal makes a lot of sense," said Will Travers, President of the Species Survival Network. "Importantly it does not ban all trophy hunting but offers Parties an effective mechanism to stop unsustainable trophy hunting. An Appendix I listing requires importing countries to issue trophy permits based on a finding that such importation would not cause detriment to the species. This is an essential tool for importing nations, many of which currently have no mechanism to deny trophy imports, even in the face of evidence highlighting the potential danger to the species of such import."
Lion population figures are hotly disputed. Some experts suggest the continental figure may be as low as 16,500 while others believe the population to be more robust. Matters are made more complicated by regional variations. Although lions are still found in 89 locations in 37 range States, 45% of these locations are home to 70 or fewer animals.
"There are many pressures on lions," explained Winnie Kiiru, Africa coordinator for the Species Survival Network and East Africa representative of the Born Free Foundation." CITES cannot address problems such as habitat loss, the decline in natural prey species such as antelope due to illegal hunting, and the persecution of lions by livestock owners. However, trophy hunting, which has caused the death of 600 lions a year for the last 3 years, is an issue that CITES can and should address. It's an essential measure if lions are to avoid the same fate as the tiger."
Opponents suggest some lion populations are both well-managed and robust. In particular they cite South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. While lion numbers in these countries may remain relatively high, current data obtained by SSN indicates that in at least three—Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—unsustainable trophy hunting may be having a negative impact.
The European Union, a destination for about 30% of all trophies in trade, has so far remained undecided on the issue, apparently waiting to see if agreement can be reached between range States. The SSN urges the EU and the USA to publicly support Kenya's proposal and encourage other CITES Parties to do the same.