Africa’s lions face “emergency situation”
by SA Tourism news
(23rd July 2012)
Tourism Update spoke with renowned conservationist Dereck Joubert, founder of National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative, about the emergency situation that Africa’s big cats are facing.
Africa’s lions continue to be victims of human conflict and habitat loss. Add to this the growing number of wild lions that are being smuggled across South Africa’s borders to supply a growing demand for lion-bone potions in the Far East as well as canned lion hunting, a problem that is not being addressed by the government.
Joubert estimates that Africa will lose its wild lion population within the next 10 to 15 years unless something dramatic is done about the situation. He says that in 50 years, Africa’s lion population has declined from 450 000 to 20 000; leopards have followed a similar curve from 700 000 to 50 000; and there are around 8 000-10 000 cheetah left today. “These figures represent a 95% decline in these predator populations.”
Joubert’s Big Cats Initiative, in conjunction with National Geographic, operates approximately 30 projects in 13 countries. It is a comprehensive programme that supports on-the-ground conservation projects, education, and economic incentive efforts and a global public-awareness campaign on the conservation of predators across the globe.
“The initiative is conservation at the flashpoint. We take on projects that can solve the problem right now. There are few species that can dramatically change the African landscape, and lions are one of them. These landscapes will collapse without the driving force of predation and we have to be very careful.”
Joubert says that the initiative’s efforts are beginning to bear fruit. In Kenya, for example, the initiative is educating the Maasai on how to protect their cattle, helping people build bomas, running education programmes, teaching the correct practices of animal husbandry and providing cattle farmers with compensation when lion kill cattle. “In instances where lion kill cattle, we step in and pay livestock owners market price for the animals,” he says.
“In an area in Southern Maasailand, 40 lions a year were being speared. Since we took on the project, about three years ago, six in total have been killed.”
He says that while the government response in each country has been different, he says the most proactive stance taken has been by the Botswana Government.
“Botswana is the first country in 34 years to stop all big cat slaughter – you can’t shoot leopard, lion or cheetah. This is a very aggressive and proactive way to deal with this issue. It is in many ways an endorsement and recognition of the fact that we do have a problem.”
Joubert says that in South Africa, the real problem is the canned lion industry, which he refers to as “an absolute disaster and travesty”.
“The South African government has been ineffectual in trying to close down canned lion hunting, which has been condemned as abhorrent behaviour around the world.”
He says the lion bone trade situation is as bad, and will cause massive pressure on lion, leopard and tiger populations. “The perception is that lion bones help with potency and cure cancer. Lion bone mythology has been inherited from tiger bone mythology. It’s all based on far eastern medicine practices. It’s all myth and legend and it’s a great pity that animals are being harvested and killed for this reason,” Joubert continued.
He says active steps need to be taken to help prevent the extinction of these animals, which include:
• stopping lion bone trade and canned hunting,
• banning of predator hunting by the South African government,
• predator management and how the breeding and re-introduction of these animals is dealt with.