In the fourth week of March, Conservation Force attended a lion workshop with 90 lion specialists in Kasane, Botswana. The workshop was a function of the African Lion Working Group (ALWG). Conservation Force Board Members Philippe Chardonnet and yours truly have belonged to the ALWG for more than a decade and deceased board member Bertrand des Clers also belonged.
All attendees at the Kasane meeting avoided being distracted with the debate over hunting versus protectionism/animal rights, but for one related topic. The agenda item was: "What is the alternative to hunting?" No realistic alternative was suggested or disclosed to provide the habitat and prey, the wildlife department operating and anti-poaching revenue, or the stakeholders' support, to take the place of hunting. I probed day and night for four days without finding any substitute for safari hunting. One insightful speaker pointed out that "there are enough lions to satisfy photographic tourist, but never enough" for hunting interests. Safari hunters want more lion; we want to grow lion numbers.
It was also recalled that during the Regional Workshops (in the mid-2000s) the wildlife departments/ government authorities agreed to maintain the then-current number of lion but had no interest in growing the number of lion. Lion are unwanted beast that have desperately needed the special interest of hunters for their space, prey and survival. As one scientist has said, "the lion needs hunters as much as the hunters need the lion." Conservation Force is holding on for dear life to what we can save.
As I write this Marco Pani is attending a lion workshop in Lusaka, Zambia in preparation for reopening lion hunting in Zambia. He is there on behalf of Conservation Force on a number of lion issues for the second time in two months. Quotas are being determined, the necessary aging system is being instituted, and leopard are being discussed as well. Meanwhile, Philippe Chardonnet is finishing up the update of the national lion action plan in Mozambique and organizing an action plan update workshop in Tanzania as soon as funding can be found.
Look for more activity on leopard because while at the CITES Standing Committee in Geneva in January, the co-chairs of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group disclosed that a worldwide action plan for leopard is in preparation. It is to be released this summer and will include additional conservation measures for leopard, including, apparently an age system approach. My initial concern is to caution against overreaction including rushing into impractical standards and draconian penalties. Hunters can be and have been our own worst enemies. What we compromise is not our own world as much as that of our children and grandchildren and the places and wildlife we care so very much about.