Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Chairman of the African Lion Working Group says...

Lions can be rehabilitated into what some people might call “The Wild”. By such “rehabilitation” is meant they are being taught to hunt for themselves, and they breed successfully. That, I’m afraid is not rehabilitation at all. I have other reservations, though, some of which are as follows:

"Rehabilitated” captive-bred lions can only be released into relatively small areas, such as properly fenced-off game farms and private nature reserves. In such case, invasive management will always be necessary, such as removing of the breeding males to prevent inbreeding, replacing them with younger, non-related males, which are fully adapted to that specific ecosystem.

In such case the older males will have to be placed elsewhere – and where will that be? I’m of opinion that such males will have to be hunted for trophy purposes, such as was the case in Pilansberg. Trophy hunting, if scientifically managed, is not a negative, though it will always be controversial.

Rehabilitated lions do not have natural fear or respect for humans, and, as was the case with the Born-Free lions of George and Joy Adamson, they will become man-eaters. Few people are aware of this, and I’ve always wondered of this fact remains untold because it may suit some people’s philosophies. Such lions also become livestock raiders.
The removal of cubs from mothers usually has an economic focus: (a) The mother comes into oestrus sooner, and breeding can be stepped up and (b) the cubs can be hand-reared to make them used to humans, once again, to exploit uninformed animal lovers’ sentiments – it remains a special experience to physically touch and stroke a lion. From “cuddly” cubs, to massive adult males with exceptionally heavy manes, due to their easy life and diet. (By the way: this is where the many claims of Barbary lion breeding come from: captive lions develop exceptionally heavy manes, and unscrupulous people quickly claim ownership of an extinct sub-species. Maybe I should add: such lion, if offered for canned hunting purposes nowadays might easily fetch $ 50 000 or more).

Most if not all captive-involved managers do not or cannot trace the origin of their stock’s genes, and within the ALWG we are concerned that corrupt gene pools may find their way into our wild lion populations from as far as European circuses, safari parks and zoos– even though it is unlikely, due to free-ranging lions not allowing foreign lions into their territories. Naturally, as stated above, one can manipulate management, e.g. by introducing new adult males, which are able to take over an existing pride, provided there are not too many adult and determined females in such pride.

“Diversity” of gene pools is a relative term, too often used loosely. Geneticists argue that, due to frequent exchange of blood lines, captive lions have a greater diversity of gene pools. That may be so, but diversity does not guarantee fully acclimatised individuals. A specimen, imported from say Canada , may have a hugely diverse gene pool, but will soon die of overheating. More so, if a lion does not have natural resistance to diseases and parasites etc. of a specific ecosystem, such lion does not have a bright future.

There are no vacuums left in Africa where free-ranging lions can be reintroduced. Human encroachment will have to be controlled, and to achieve that, we will have to convince African governments to cooperate – please refer to the Regional Lion Strategies of IUCN.

The keeping and breeding of captive lions results in canned lion hunting. At this very moment, I’m very concerned that canned lion hunting is spilling over into South Africa ’s adjoining countries, such as Botswana , Zimbabwe , Mozambique , Swaziland and Zambia . Angola would be excellent ground for such ventures: a way to make money where a country’s government is in shambles. There are a number of lion breeders in SA who are determined to continue making money out of canned hunting, and I know that a few of them have very firm intentions to take their breeding stock to neighbouring countries.

The Alert Project has no concervation value at all. Wild, free-ranging lion populations cannot be saved from extinction through this method. We should rather spend our money and expertise to find ways of protecting existing wild lion populations. Currently, some of our members are doing excellent conservation work, and they need to be supported. But there are too many lion populations, especially in West Africa , which are locally endangered, and where tourism, e.g. does not pay sufficient to motivate the existence of lions as opposed to livestock and sustenance farming.

Sarel van der Merwe
Chair: African Lion Working Group
Associated with the Cat and Conservation Breeding Specialist Group of IUCN/SSC
PO Box 12451
Brandhof 9324
South Africa
Tel.: +27 51 405 8513 (w)
or: +27 51 444 6656 (h)
Cell.: +27 83 607 0986
E-mail: mwnatura@mweb.co.za
web: http://www.african-lion.org