Rolf Baldus Interviews Professor Craig Packer
Editor’s comments: Kenya’s proposal to transfer the African lion from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I has again highlighted the IFAW-abetted protectionist wildlife policy of this country. Since sport hunting was prohibited in Kenya almost three decades ago, the country has lost a considerable – and in our opinion unacceptable – percentage of its precious wildlife. The propaganda campaigns of the international animal rights movements cannot change this sad fact. Fortunately more and more conservation scientists worldwide now go public in exposing the failure of the Kenyan approach.
Dramatic lion figures are being published by the world media: According to some scientists there are only 15,000 lions left in the whole of Africa as compared to 100,000 in the past. Is the lion an endangered species?
The earlier figure was never meant to be taken seriously as a population estimate; it was just a rough guess of the order of magnitude of the overall population size. Instead of a million lions or ten-thousand, the authors said there were probably on the order of a hundred thousand. The recent numbers stem from the first systematic attempts to tally all the lions on the continent. This time each guess was scaled down to the size of a single reserve or park, and then the guesses were summed up to give a crude total. The two most widely cited total guesses used different techniques, and the more inclusive estimate came up with a larger number. So it is simply wrong to claim that these surveys show a “dramatic decline” in lion numbers – we’ll never know what happened to lion numbers over the past 20 years. On the other hand, I do think that there probably are fewer than 100,000 lions left in the wild – which is less than the number of chimpanzees or elephants – so it is important to take active steps to conserve the species while we still can.
What are the main causes for declines of lions where they occur?
Lions are dangerous animals that kill people and livestock. Rural Africans face real threats from lions, and they retaliate to livestock losses or personal injury by trying to remove the “problem animal.” The number of lions killed by vengeful humans each year is far greater than from any other cause.
If international trade or trophy hunting are not threatening the lion, then the Kenyan uplisting proposal at CITES would have no basis?
The Kenyan listing is irresponsible. It recognizes the inadequacies of the recent censuses, yet it immediately turns around and cites them as if they were perfectly accurate. Even worse, the Kenyans claim that lions are being decimated by FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and distemper. Our Serengeti studies are by far the most exhaustive investigations on lion health, and we cannot find any evidence that FIV causes significant health effects. While Canine Distemper Virus did cause a 35% decline in the Serengeti lions in 1994, the population recovered completely within 5 years – and is currently at its all time high. By far the most important threat to lions comes from problem animal control, and by putting lions on Appendix 1, the Kenyans would do much more harm than good. Tanzania has more lions than any other country in the world, and the majority of these animals live outside the national parks. If lion trophy hunting were stopped, they would have no economic value, and there would no longer be any incentive to conserve the lions. Opponents of trophy hunting have provided no alternative mechanism for funding the large-scale conservation efforts required to protect the species.
Kenya has had no hunting of lions since 27 years and the lion population has been greatly reduced. Tanzania has lion hunting and at the same time the biggest population on the continent. What is the role of well managed lion hunting for conservation?
I think that the situation in Kenya illustrates that lions would be viewed only as threats to people and livestock in the absence of trophy hunting. Lions in Amboseli National Park were exterminated by angry Maasai in the early 1990s, and three-fourths of the lions in Nairobi Park were speared in the past year. Lions inflict serious damage to these people’s livelihoods, so why should they be tolerated outside the parks? The Tanzanian hunting industry certainly has the potential to play an important role in lion conservation, but there is significant room for improvement. Hunting companies need to engage local communities directly and help them to co-exist with lions.
It is argued that the phenomenon of maneless lions is a result of trophy hunting. Why are there lions with and others without manes?
Mane size is largely a response to average temperature in the environment. Serengeti and Ngorongoro lions live at fairly high altitudes where temperatures are quite mild, and they have luxurious manes; lions in the hotter climates of Tsavo, Selous and India have quite short manes. Even in the 1890’s these hot climate lions were known for being maneless – long before there was any significant trophy hunting.
RB: How can lion hunting be improved?
Lion trophy hunting must be recognized as the primary mechanism for protecting viable lion populations outside the national parks. First and foremost, hunters must work to discover the circumstances where people and livestock are attacked by lions. Conservation of such a dangerous animal rests with the tolerance of local people, and practical projects improving animal husbandry and personal safety should be implemented in cooperation with the local and regional governments.
Lions kill dozens of people each year and hundreds of livestock. Rural Africans are becoming less and less tolerant to these losses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually started to view problem animals with the same intense hostility as rural Swedes or Americans!
Second, it is essential to restrict lion hunting to males that are at least 6 yrs of age – old enough to have raised their first set of offspring. By enforcing an age minimum, the wildlife authorities will make giant strides in forcing hunting companies to prevent over-exploitation.
Finally, the business of trophy hunting needs to be based on providing its clients with an unforgettable adventure – rather than selling them dead animals. African hunting companies must become associated with wildlife conservation in the same way that Ducks Unlimited is associated with wetlands conservation – rather than being associated with dead ducks.
Lion conservation is going to be very expensive, and hunting companies will have to raise more and more income from diversified activities – there is no way to stake their fortune on shooting more and more animals. In addition, the industry needs to attract more long-term investors. By increasing the stability of the hunting blocks (through extended contracts and restrictions on who can actually hunt in those blocks), hunters will increasingly regard the young lions on their properties as their crop of the future rather than something that should be hastily plucked before it is ripe.
Dr. Craig Packer is a Distinguished McKnight Professor from the University of Minnesota. He has done 26 years of research on the lions of the Serengeti and is regarded as one of the world authorities on lions.
The interview was conducted by Dr. Rolf D. Baldus in Tanzania and first published in German in “Jagen Weltweit”, Paul Parey Verlag, Hamburg, www.jww.de
For more information about Dr. Packer’s work please go to the following website: www.lionresearch.org