SCI: Fighting for Lions Campaign: One Year Later
March 2014, Volume 12-2

With ONE MILLION hunter-raised dollars in the bank, one strategic plan to ensure the conservation of the African lion, and just one year; Safari Club International Foundation awaits the first indications of success with its Fighting for Lions Campaign. [The] United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will announce what protection status, if any, should be assigned to the African lion under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Anti-hunting organizations have petitioned the FWS to list African lions as endangered, and through a set procedure, the government must consider the ESA petition within a limited time frame. If [listed] as endangered, the U.S. market is closed to lion hunting causing a cascade of problems.

An endangered listing would essentially mean a total loss of U.S. citizen participation in lion hunting. International hunters would fill the void, but they would pay less to hunt. This means African lions would lose economic value. There would be an immediate reduction in revenue for private and government run anti-poaching efforts that protect lions, depredation compensation, and contributions to community development. As a result, farmers and ranchers will no longer have any incentive to protect lions: they would kill lions instead to protect their animals and families. Jobs and incomes of local people associated with the hunting industry would be at risk, and at the bottom of the cascade would be the lion. Ironically, lions will suffer most from the very Act that was designed to help conserve them.

For the same reasons, stopping all lion hunting (not just from U.S. hunters), would be devastating for lion conservation. This is the goal of anti-hunting organizations: to end all hunting, everywhere “ without regard to its positive benefits. They will likely try to reach this goal by proposing to up-list lions to the maximum protection status at the next Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). African lions are presently protected under CITES, but their populations are healthy enough to sustain international trade. If the maximum CITES protection status is decided for lions, many countries would block their citizens from participating in international hunting and trade. The Fighting for Lions Campaign represents the hunting community and gives a voice to those who understand the importance of hunting to lion conservation. The campaign’s three approaches to conserve lions across the entire African continent are:

  • Population Research where needed;
  • Conservation, which includes human-wildlife conflict and anti-poaching; and
  • Outreach and Education.

The campaign brings science to the forefront and communicates that lions are absolutely not on the brink of extinction. In the past year, SCI Foundation has initiated or accomplished the following:

Population Research: Census surveys and organized research are of utmost importance to ensure the FWS and CITES have the correct information to make decisions. SCI Foundation has three major lion research projects underway, all of which are designed to improve lion conservation and management.

  • Project 1: Lion aging experiment: If we can visually age lions in the field to a specific year class, then we can have more control over the harvest. Harvest of old lions is generally accepted as a best practice. SCI Foundation has partnered on a long term aging study that will determine whether it is possible to age lions in field situations, as well as post-harvest, with precision. This is currently a management need, as African countries trial age-based harvest regulations. The research includes lions from Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa.
  • Project 2: Zambia-wide lion population census: SCI Foundation is working to build a four-way partnership with Zambia’s Wildlife Management Authority, University of Zambia, and Mississippi State University. This multiple-year population census will derive the most scientifically robust estimate of lions, and include statistical precision. This is a fundamental step to quota setting in Zambia with an anticipated reopening of hunting.
  • Project 3: Study of harvest statistics in lion range states: SCIF has discovered a discrepancy between African government lion harvest statistics and trade statistics reported in a CITES database. The CITES database is the best information available regarding trade in protected wildlife, including lions. Thus, it is imperative that the database is accurate. Otherwise, analyses using the database to understand lion harvest and trade are inherently flawed.

Conservation (Human-Wildlife Conflict and Anti-Poaching): With population growth, humans and lions increasingly share the same lands resulting in conflicts. Increased agriculture and livestock production replaces the habitat of lions and their prey, exacerbating the problem. The more lions interact with humans, the more common poaching for bush meat and retaliatory killings becomes. By preventing these conflicts, we can help protect African lions from illegal killings. SCI Foundation is in communication with African governments to learn how we can alleviate human-wildlife conflict.

  • On July 1, 2013, President Obama signed an executive order establishing a Presidential Taskforce on Combating Wildlife Trafficking (Taskforce). SCI Foundation is pleased that the administration has taken such a strong step to combat the growing problem of poaching and illegal wildlife trade. The Taskforce will coordinate efforts among federal agencies and work with foreign nations and international bodies to aid in enforcement against crime related to wildlife trafficking. To the best of our ability, SCI Foundation will be involved with the development of recommendations that are implemented by the task force.
  • During the African Wildlife Consultative Forum (AWCF), hosted by Zambia and SCI Foundation in Livingstone, Zambia, November of 2013, three letters were drafted:
    • The first letter was to Director Ashe of the FWS asking for his consideration of the African nations represented at AWCF before making any decisions regarding the listing of the African Lion under the Endangered Species Act. All nations represented signed on.
    • The second letter detailed the importance of the African government’s intelligence to the development of strategy with wildlife trafficking and anti-poaching. All nations represented signed on and the letter has since been submitted to the record.
    • The third letter was drafted by the PH Association representatives and expressed their interest to be involved, however possible, with anti-poaching efforts initiated by the Taskforce. Every single PH Association signed onto the letter giving a strong “boots-on-the ground” voice that hunting in Africa is essential to combating wildlife trafficking. SCI Foundation acted on the 13 PH associations’ behalf and submitted the letter for record.

Outreach and Education: Public opinion impacts regulatory decisions. SCI Foundation has completed public opinion surveys to help explain the impacts of an ESA listing and CITES up-listing to decision makers. Both regulatory mechanisms can have a great influence on hunters investing in the conservation of the African lion. Just like in the U.S., hunting generates conservation revenue in Africa. An Endangered status or up-listing for the African lion will result in major revenue losses for conservation and less protection for African lions in Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa, among others.

  • In early 2013, SCIF conducted extensive public research on the listing and the proper way to frame the argument to prevent the extinction of the African lion through its listing of endangered under the ESA. Further, SCI Foundation partnered with some of the foremost experts in Washington when it comes to the intricacies of the Endangered Species Act. These experts advised SCIF for the best course of action moving forward through 2014 and beyond.
  • In June of 2013, SCIF participated in an exclusive workshop hosted by the FWS. SCIF Conservation Chair Dr. Al Maki outlined current conservation efforts across the lion’s range and focused on Tanzania’s successful management of the species. All participating biologists were in agreement that the African Lion was NOT “on the brink of extinction.”
  • Also in June of 2013, SCIF released “Keeping the Lion’s Share” which counters a “study” issued by the petitioning groups questioning the role of hunters in helping African communities, and calling for African lions to be listed by the U.S. government as an endangered species. The report points to figures that show the millions of dollars contributed by hunters to African communities dwarf the paltry expenditures by the animal rights groups in sub-Saharan Africa. The report was published by many main stream media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News, and CNBC.

The first real-world measure for the effectiveness of the Fighting for Lions Campaign starts with the Endangered Species Act. SCI Foundation’s efforts with outreach and communication of lion science will be successful if the African lion is not listed as an endangered species. Future measures include CITES recommendations on how lions should be listed by CITES, ground breaking research being used in lion management, and public awareness of the benefits hunting has to lion conservation.

To make a donation to support the Fighting for Lions Campaign, contact Kimberly Byers at KByers@safariclub.org or call (520) 620-1220 Ext. 322. You may also contact your state representative to show your support to the campaign and SCI Foundation’s wildlife conservation efforts. For a list of your elected US officials, click here.