Monday, December 24, 2007

Conversation on the lion project and conservation aid...

24 December 2007

Jude of inquires:

1) What are the preferred models for the conservation of lion? We are aware of the encroachment of humans on Lion habitat and the conflicts with livestock etc - but are there models that do work and what are the successes?

IPAM. Obviously any species should if possible be conserved as part of a thriving and viable ecosystem. As a keystone species, lion are particularly important biologically and culturally, their impact and meaning for man in general lying deep in the psyche, and for the hunter-gatherers and shifting agriculturists of the Neolithic revolution - a revolution still ongoing, in particular, they are the reincarnated spirits – both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, of their ancestors. The paradox is that it is the pressures from outside brought to bear on the bush folk who live with lion - the powers of the chemical agriculture industry in spreading the use of insecticides among those recruited into agricultural outgrower schemes, the invasion of the bushfolk lands by outsiders in search of bushmeat, fish and ivory, the failure of over centralized governments to see that the full benefits of safari hunting and tourism goes to them, which threatens both them and the lion. The poisoning of lion, the killing of elephant and hippo by the very people who should benefit from them is the faustian bargain that the bushfolk have been forced to accept by their own governments – though, as in Namibia, there are some notable exceptions. So, one cannot just concentrate on lion conservation without diagnosing and treating the actual cause of the conservation problem, much of which hinges around getting central government off the backs of the bushfolk. Successful wildland models? There are some hunting safari companies who ensure that only those lion which have passed the breeding age are hunted and shot, though the resurgent lion population then may have other impacts, notably, for example, on Masai cattle, and then back on the lion itself. I always think that the management of the lion population of the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves was a successful model in the 70’s in what was, and remains, a biogeographic island. There wildlife managers knew that if they controlled the nomadic males in search of new territory, that they could contain the problem, and did. But, sadly, that degree of management and effort is now lacking across Africa. And so we must recognize that the models of the future have to evolve out of the local culture, joined in partnership with investors who do not seek to alienate traditional lands.

Community ownership and smart-partnerships which provide incentives for the protection of customary lands and adjoining protected areas, followed by management, is the key; without it the tragedy of the commons will prevail.

2) Even if Zambian Authorities have approved the ALERT permits and importation, in what other ways (other than perhaps the obvious impact on the individual lions and their freedom) will this impact on the environment and communities they are introduced to?

IPAM. A captive-bred release of any species back to the wild is fraught with all kinds of potential problems: genetic, disease, wildlife and people impacts – and not least, the fact that dubious schemes which are not of irreproachable conservation value often get the green light. In Zambia, we have healthy lion populations in some places, and declining, threatened or locally extinct lion scenarios in other places. We have no need of more lion in Zambia. What we do need is to conserve the viable lion populations we have by implementing sound management and by implementing community trust structures whereby communities take on responsibilities for natural resource management, assisted by investment partners and NGOs. We can start with the safari hunting industry – virtually the only source of income for 34 Game Management Areas - in which the hunting concessions are located, by ensuring that only lion which are six years or older are shot. This would mean that about 30% of the present lion quota would be taken. But the Government are now insisting that hunting operators purchase 100% of the quota in advance – a non-refundable purchase. Obviously this is not in the lion’s best interest, nor of the investors, the community or Zambia.

If lion are reared in the Dambwa forest and allowed to walk and hunt other game with ALERT’s tourists in the Mosi oa Tunya National Park, we will witness mayhem. And when these semi-domesticated lion are released into the wild, people will be killed and lion in general targeted by the poisoners. We know this from our Zambian experience: the lion which Norman Carr, Nelso Chilagwa, Johnny Uys and Barry Shenton helped raise in the late 50s killed a young boy before they were released into the wild. Semi-domesticated lion don’t fear people and soon learn how to kill them.

In accordance with the Biodiversity Convention, Zambia, as a member, is obliged to adhere strictly to the Precautionary Principle. We must ensure she complies.

3) If there is no or little conservation value in tourism products that promote and breed animals for the tourist "encounter" market - in what ways can concerned individuals (other than to not use marketers and organisations involved in this kind of product) get involved to influence African nations with tourism/wildlife capabilities to promote and concentrate on those activities with the least environmental impact and the best outcome for conservation?

IPAM. They should directly support rural livelihoods and conservation projects which are centered on rural communities, but only where some sort of trust structure is in place; and they should not give money directly to highly centralized governments where the money will be misappropriated, or to large NGOs who behave like donors, giving rise to the Principle-agent malady whereby donors and conservation NGOs conspire to ensure that the mandated implementer does nothing. A good example is the Zambia Wildlife Authority which attempts to satisfy a number of ‘supporters’: the government, the World Bank, NORAD, its partner tourism investors (not much), the EU, DANNIDA,WWF, AWF, Parks Africa, Peace Parks, UNDP, its BOARD, itself – hoist as it is on its own burgeoning senior staff payroll. Donors and NGOs impose few conditions on government, by default supporting dysfunctional departments and corrupt practices. Forget the big plans; and I think here of the Seattle/Omaha/UN malaria nonsense where three million mosquito nets have been dropped off in Zambia, most now stitched together and used as fishing nets, impacting on our total fishery, on crocodile, on otter…on lion perhaps .No environmental impact assessment was ever carried out for this – a massive assault on rural livelihoods.

Giving to the needy is at the heart of western man’s conscience and is something of which we can be inordinately proud. But giving irresponsibly, or in ignorance, is unworthy of our traditions to do better for our fellow man and for the wildlife and wild places that lend us succour.