by Adam Cruise, Courtesy of Conservation Action Trust

South Africa's lion ranchers are pushing to cash in - at the expense of wild lions. Photo by Martin Mecnarowski via Wikimedia Commons

South Africa’s lion ranchers are pushing to cash in – at the expense of wild lions. Photo by Martin Mecnarowski via Wikimedia Commons

South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs has released for public comment its first-ever Biodiversity Management Plan for lions, panthera leo.

The main purpose of the proposed plan is outlined in the government’s vision for the South African lion population. “Through the existence of stable, viable and ecologically functional populations of managed and wild lions, along with well-managed captive populations that have minimal negative conservation impacts, lions will provide key opportunities for biodiversity conservation, economic development, social benefits and improved management capacity.”

This counter-trend, says the Biodiversity Management Plan, is “because all lions in South Africa are within largely adequately fenced reserves with sufficient management budgets…” As a result, most of the threats faced by other African lions “are not relevant to lions here.”While African range lions have declined over the last several decades, especially in west and east Africa and in southern Africa, where they were extirpated from most of their range by the 1900s, South Africa’s lion populations have not only stabilized but are increasing – by 30 percent over the last three decades.

Although wild lion population numbers are dropping across the continent, the Department of Environmental Affairs recommends that lions in South Africa be downgraded on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species from the current classification of Vulnerable to extinction to a classification of Least Concern.

Dr. Pieter Kat a trustee with LionAid, a UK charity working globally to save lions, is critical of the management plan.

“This is clearly to facilitate trade, to the detriment of wild lions in South Africa.”

There are currently 2,300 wild lions in the various national parks and 800 “managed wild” lions in smaller reserves, according to the Biodiversity Management Plan.

The plan recommends the downlisting because there are about 1,600 mature individual lions in South Africa, and it maintains that when the population of mature wild lions tops 1,500 individuals, the IUCN’s Red List should change the status of the species.

But South Africa does not know how many wild lions there are, says Dr. Kat. The last lion survey was in Kruger National Park in 2005/2006, so that data is now almost 10 years old.

“You cannot use it in any management plan as it is well beyond the ‘sell by’ date,” he said.

The Biodiversity Management Plan notes that there are around 6,000 captive-bred lions throughout the country, bred “exclusively to generate money” and that the captive breeding and subsequent release for hunting of captive bred lions remains legal.

South Africa is the only country in the world that has three classifications for lions: wild, managed wild and captive bred.

“The management of these lions,” says the Department of Environmental Affairs, “is challenging, with high growth rates necessitating appropriate population regulation.”

Dr. Kat said, “It’s is a pure attempt at manipulation of statistics to justify a commercial end.”

Asian traders started taking an interest in South African lions in 2008, when the decline in tiger numbers became acute. In traditional Chinese medicine, tiger wine and cake, made using powdered bones, allegedly cures many ills including ulcers, cramp, rheumatism, stomach ache and malaria.

Lion bones are now filling the gap and, according to the Biodiversity Management Plan, there is a sharp increase in lion products sold in Vietnam, Laos and China.

The agency says 739 kilograms of lion bones were legally traded to Asia in 2012 as compared to just 55 kilograms the year before.

The Biodiversity Management Plan views a legal trade in lion bones as an economically viable activity and hopes to “promote sustainable legal trade in lions and lion products” using a regulated permit system.

The sale of lion products, especially lion bones, offers breeders a way of boosting their earnings. A breeder can get paid anywhere from US$5,000 to US$25,000 per lion shot, but can boost his earnings by selling a lion skeleton, worth between $1,000 and $2,000 to a Chinese dealer in Durban or Johannesburg.

The skeleton, once boiled down and bottled in Asia could reach a value exceeding US$20,000.

Dr. Kat maintains that “by stimulating an Asian market for lion products, increased demand will affect lions across the continent as they now have value for poachers.”

He points out that there is already significant evidence that lions are being poached for their skins and bones in Zimbabwe and Tanzania, and trophy hunting operators outside South Africa have already been approached to sell the lion bones.

He says it is a short step from there to middlemen arranging for communities to poach and sell lion bones.


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by Mic Smith, Mongabay.com

In South Africa, "Pseudo hunts still happen, but the syndicates are recruiting Czechs or Russians to bypass the ban on Vietnamese hunters." Photo by Hein Waschefort  via Wikimedia Commons

In South Africa, “Pseudo hunts still happen, but the syndicates are recruiting Czechs or Russians to bypass the ban on Vietnamese hunters.” Photo by Hein Waschefort via Wikimedia Commons

Two adult rhinos and a calf lie under a tree 50 meters off the road. It’s a nice sighting for me in the midday heat of Kruger National Park in South Africa — my second of rhinos in two days. On the eastern horizon behind their sleeping forms lies a dark blue line; the Lembobo Mountains mark the border between South Africa and Mozambique. Those deadly hills produce poaching teams from Mozambican villages quicker than Kruger’s rhino antipoaching teams can catch them. The teams are put together from queues of poor Mozambican men lining up for the rhino horn money that is flooding in from international syndicates based primarily in Vietnam and China. More poachers are probably mobilizing up there for incursions tonight. But the rhinos’ enemies come not only from the east. Just as many come from the South African townships on Kruger’s western border. SANParks, South Africa’s national parks agency, estimates that 15 rhino poaching teams operate in Kruger every night. It’s been a full moon so poaching activity has been hectic. The eyes of Lembobo watch.

Read the full article: Amid rhinoceros poaching frenzy, dark days for South African society


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"What passes for economics in wildlife trade literature avoids several serious conceptual and empirical questions, " says Dr. Alejandro Nadal.

“What passes for economics in wildlife trade literature avoids several serious conceptual and empirical questions, ” says Dr. Alejandro Nadal.

Supporters of South Africa’s push to legalize rhino horn trade are fond of saying that the position is one of economics — but expert scrutiny reveals that the “rhino-nomics” theory is simplistic, flawed, and based on naïve textbook concepts.

Speaking at the International Wildlife Trafficking Symposium in London, Dr. Alejandro Nadal — Professor at the Centre for Economic Studies of El Colegio de Mexico and Co-Chair of TEMTI-CEESP-IUCN — opened his presentation by stating that any debate on wildlife trade policy “needs to take into account the fact that markets do not behave in accordance to the simplified narrative of textbook economics”.

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A Vietnamese delegation is on a fact-finding mission about the illegal trade in rhino horn in South Africa. Photo by Lorraine R [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

A Vietnamese delegation is on a fact-finding mission about the illegal trade in rhino horn in South Africa. Photo by Lorraine R [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

A Vietnamese delegation — including a key National Assembly member, a well-known journalist, a national film celebrity and a senior Environmental Police officer — arrived this week in South Africa to investigate the illegal trade in rhino horn.

Following the ten-day fact-finding mission, the delegates will appear at a special press conference in Vietnam on Friday, September 20. Journalists are invited to hear them reflect on their South African experiences and celebrate the fourth annual World Rhino Day, which falls two days later on Sunday, September 22.

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South Africa's trophy hunt industry. Photo by Profberger via Wikimedia Commons

More woes for South Africa’s trophy hunt industry. Photo by Profberger via Wikimedia Commons

The July 2013 seizure of 24 rhino horns and arrest of 16 suspects in the Czech Republic points yet again to South Africa’s failure to properly monitor its own trophy hunt industry.

The “hunters” were said to have been hired by an “international criminal gang” to legally kill rhinos in South Africa. This is in order to use the CITES permit loophole which allows for the import of “legally” sourced rhino horns into the Czech Republic. Customs officials at Prague’s Václav Havel International Airport became suspicious and contacted the police, according to Radio Prague. Although no names were released due to the ongoing investigation, among those arrested were Czech as well as foreign nationals. The operation was conducted in conjunction with INTERPOL.

South Africa’s trophy hunt industry has been at the center of rhino horn trafficking for quite some time. The first Vietnamese “pseudo-hunt” apparently took place in 2003, and in November 2009, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC warned in its report ahead of CITES CoP15 that these bogus hunts had already been taking place on “the same game ranches repeatedly”.

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As seen at the Good Planet Film Festival in Rio de Janiero for RIO + 20, watch Mick and Ted Reilly discuss the rhino crisis in Swaziland and South Africa in this short documentary by Andrew Martin for UNTV.

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