Thursday, February 14, 2008

To the Sunday Times, London.

To:
online.editor@timesonline.co.uk
newsdesk@sunday-times.co.uk
travel@sunday-times.co.uk

c.c.
Chris_Haslam@ipcmedia.com
marleen@africanencounter.org
david@africanencounter.org
Sarah.Raine@realgap.co.uk

From:
I.P.A. Manning S.A.I.E.E.
Former Chief Technical Advisor
South African CITES Implementation Project
Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism


Date: 11th February 2008

Sirs,

I am in receipt of a press statement of 14 February 2008 issued jointly by Antelope Park, ALERT, and a Sir Ranulph Fiennes in response to the Sunday Times article by Chris Haslam “African lion encounters: a bloody con,” published on February 10, 2008.

The press statement attempts to deal with what I consider are two essential points: 1) that ALERT exported 37 lion to South African captive centres and that there was no intention to sell them to a canned hunting operation. This is na├»ve or disingenuous in the extreme given the many conservation bandits at work in the semi-autonomous nine provinces of South Africa. And to state that “there was a pre-condition on the provision of an export permit by the Zimbabwe Wildlife Authority that those lions could not be used for canned hunting” shows a degree of respect for the Zimbabwean Government and its powers which is touching.

The other crucial issue which got us all huffing and puffing in the first place in Zambia is 2) the question of what will happen to the lion once they tire of being cuddled and strolled about with. ALERT’S statement denies that tourists and volunteers are told that the lion cubs are being raised for release in the wild, or that “this form of release has never formed part of the release programme “, yet concluding the paragraph by saying “they will therefore be able to be released into the wild with the same avoidance behaviours towards humans as any wild born lion.” This is all very confusing and clearly contradictory.

In the statement put out by ALERT’s own consultants, ENVSOL CONSULT; Environmental Solutions Consultants, POSTNET BOX5, E891 Lusaka Tel: 096 450218
 on 11 May 2007 for a scoping meeting held in Livingstone on 17 May 2007, supposedly leading to the preparation of environmental impact statement, but which has yet to see the light of day, now fully nine months later, they wrote: “The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), supported by African Encounter, under the trading name of Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited is bringing a lion rehabilitation & release into the wild program to Zambia”. Towards the end of the statement stage four of the project is described as follows: “In stage four the lions born in stage three can be released into the wild where their numbers have been most diminished.”

As they say in Zambia, “I have got a problem.”
Sincerely,
Ian Manning


___________________________________________________________________

On 11 May, 2007 the following was forwarded to me:

ENVSOL CONSULT; Environmental Solutions Consultants, POSTNET BOX5, E891 Lusaka Tel: 096 450218


Invitation to a scoping meeting for the Lion Encounter and Dambwa Forest Lion Rehabilitation Project



The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), supported by African Encounter, under the trading name of Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited is bringing a lion rehabilitation & release into the wild program to Zambia. The program has been operating in Gweru, in Zimbabwe, since 1999 and in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, since 2005. We are now planning to extend our operations to Livingstone, Zambia.



ALERT has secured a Forest Concession Agreement (FCA) on a section of the Dambwa Forest from the Zambian Government. Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited has secured a Tourism Concession Agreement (TCA) with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA).
The operation will be run from a site within the Mosi O Tunya National Park for stage one (see attached information sheet) and within the Dambwa Forest for stages two and three. Envsol Consult has been engaged as consultants to undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). An important part of this assessment is stakeholder consultations. A scoping meeting will be held prior to commencing the environmental studies in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulation of 1997. The purpose of this meeting is to get views and concerns of stakeholders so that they can be taken into account within the EIA. As one of the key stakeholders your views over this project and support would be valuable to the successful implementation of this lion rehabilitation program. In this regard, you are cordially invited to attend a scoping meeting on 17th May 2007 at 09:00hrs at Zambezi Sun, Livingstone. Your presence at this meeting is highly valued. Please indicate by return email your participation and names of participants to facilitate travel and accommodation arrangements for those traveling from outside Livingstone. Please address all correspondence to alert@safpar.com

Thank you and regards

Kenneth Nyundu
Envsol Consult




Information Sheet for the 
Lion Encounter and Dambwa Forest Lion Rehabilitation Project



Historically, lions were widespread throughout Africa however their range has been severely reduced in recent years.

Over 200,000 lions roamed the continent as recently as 1975 but in 2002 two surveys provided evidence of a dramatic decline estimating that only 23 to 39,000 remain with the lowest estimate being just 16,500. This represents an extremely worrying 80 to 90% population drop in less than 30 years, and it is widely accepted that the population has continued to decline. 

The African lion has been placed on the list of “vulnerable” species, but the alarming speed of the crash in lion populations has led many to call for the species to be upgraded to “endangered”.



The Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program. 


The reintroduction of lions into their natural habitat is very difficult, and previous attempts have had limited success. The reasons for this are suggested that: 


§ firstly the lions had no experience of their natural environment 

§ that their reliance on humans wasn’t sufficiently removed

§ thirdly, they were released as individuals with very little social organization,

§ and finally they had no experience of predatory and competitive species.


The program was developed in 1999 at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe. We are seeking to solve those previous problems by using a four stage rehabilitation program.



In stage one, lions born in our breeding centres, are removed from their mothers at three weeks old. This allows us to train them only to the point that they’re safe for us to walk with them in the African Bush. When the cubs are six weeks old they’re taken out into their natural environment on walks. They’re accompanied by experienced handlers and volunteer workers who act as dominant members of the lions’ pride. As their experience grows over the following months they’re introduced to the game species in the Park, and by 18 months they’re quite capable of stalking and taking down some of the smaller prey here in the Park. By 2 years old they’re seasoned hunters, and we give them every opportunity to hone their hunting skills.



In stage two the lions have the opportunity to develop a natural pride social system in a minimum 500 acre enclosure. They have plenty of game to hunt, and are monitored closely. Importantly, all human contact is removed. The lions will remain in stage 2 until we’re happy that they have a fully self-sustaining and socially stable pride. 





In stage three the lions will be radio collared and translocated as a pride into a managed ecosystem of around 10,000 acres or more, 

• There will be no other lions, no resident human beings

• They’ll have a broad range of prey species to hunt

• but they’ll also have competitive species such as hyena 


The lions in Stage 3 will give birth to cubs that will be raised by the pride in the managed ecosystem, very close to their natural environment. These cubs will develop skills that will enable their re-introduction into appropriate National Parks and reserves across the African continent.



In stage four the lions born in stage three can be released into the wild where their numbers have been most diminished. We‘re able to provide complete, self-sustaining prides; or female only groups that can be integrated with existing wild prides. We can also provide male only coalitions which can add a natural gene flow to an existing population.

All four stages of the rehabilitation & release into the wild program have the potential to generate much needed income for the lion project as well as funding research, conservation and community programs. Hence, the lions themselves are also a fundraising ambassador for Africa’s wildlife and its people.

The Conservation Centre for Wild Africa (CCWA) conducts research & conservation activities, not only for lions, but for a diversity of Africa’s wildlife that will provide a comprehensive body of work to assist in the preparation of sound management plans in order to conserve a Wild Africa for future generations.



The ALERT Communities Trust (ACT) is our way of giving back to the communities bordering conservation areas so that they receive benefits for supporting those conservation programs. A primary element of this is our community education and awareness program to further understanding of the importance and relevance of sound conservation practice. Local communities are involved in eco-tourism ventures related to the programs, and money generated goes back into community development schemes agreed as priorities with the local community, such as building schools or providing medical supplies.




The Livingstone Branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Zambia included the following comments:

This is a project whereby lions are to be bred in captivity in cages within the Mosi-o-tunya National Park, just south of Livingstone. The young will then be taken from their mothers at the age of 3 weeks to provide tourism in the form of "walking with lions". When the lions are too old to be safe to walk with tourists, they will be released into an enclosure in a leased part of Dambwa Forest Reserve, on the north edge of Livingstone City. They will then be allowed to breed again and the next generation are to be transported elsewhere and released into the wild.

In order to provide food, the young lions within Mosi-o-tunya National Park will be allowed to hunt antelope. When they are released into Dambwa Forest Reserve prey animals and competitors such as hyaenas will be added to give them a more natural environment.



The Society has been aware of this project for some time and correspondence has been passed around among some members and other concerned individuals. It is quite a controversial project in terms of lion ethics, as well as human safety around Livingstone and elsewhere. Some of the questions raised include:


i) How ethical is it to breed lions in captivity, separate them from their mothers at a very early age, and train them to walk with humans in order to provide tourism income?

ii) ii) How safe will it be to release them into Dambwa Forest Reserve, which is so close to Livingstone City and surrounding villages?
iii) Will it be possible for these lions to be released into the wild successfully, without the risk of them becoming man-eaters?

iii) iv) Is there a possibility that some of them will eventually be used for canned hunting, an activity which has recently been banned in South Africa for ethical reasons?


For more information on the controversies and issues involved please look up http://www.lionscam.blogspot.com/
I need your comments, proposals, suggestions, opinions, professional advice, on this issue for whoever is to attend this meeting on behalf of the Society. Please keep in mind that this is a Scoping Meeting in preparation for an Environmental Impact Assessment. As is mentioned in the letter, the main purpose of the meeting is to get views and concerns of the stakeholders so they can be taken into account within the EIA. We need to consider all the possible environmental concerns and issues that should be looked into and alert the consultants who are carrying out the EIA. As can be seen below, the letter is addressed to the Society and we are to confirm the names of participants (number not stated). If you are a member of the Society and would like to attend this meeting, please let me know as soon as possible (agenda attached).

The consultants would also like to meet some members of the Society on the 15th or 16th of May (before the meeting) while they are in Livingstone. Is anyone available? Please let me know when, so I can get back to the consultants.


Yours in conservation


Clare Mateke
SECRETARY

Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ)

Livingstone Branch

ZAMBIA

vcmateke@zamnet.zm




P R E S S S T A T E M E N T OF 14 FEBRUARY 2008 ISSUED JOINTLY BY ANTELOPE PARK, ALERT, AND SIR RANULPH FIENNES IN RESPONSE TO THE SUNDAY TIMES ARTICLE “AFRICAN LION ENCOUNTERS: A BLOODY CON,” PUBLISHED ON FEBRUARY 10, 2008


To: online.editor@timesonline.co.uk
newsdesk@sunday-times.co.uk
travel@sunday-times.co.uk
Chris_Haslam@ipcmedia.com

Date: 11th February 2008

Contact: Marleen Lammers, PR Manager, Antelope Park, Gweru, Zimbabwe Email: marleen@africanencounter.org
David Youldon, Chief Operating Officer, ALERT, Gweru, Zimbabwe Email: david@africanencounter.org
Sarah Raine, PR Manager, Real Gap, Kent, United Kingdom
Email: Sarah.Raine@realgap.co.uk

The article “African Lion Encounters: A Bloody Con,” which was written by Chris Haslam, and published in the Sunday Times on Sunday February 10, is full of inaccuracies. We feel that this article strongly misrepresents ALERT, a trust that is dedicated to ensuring the future of the African Lion, and Antelope Park, where the programme is based.

The article claims that “as many as 59 lion cubs raised at Antelope Park have been sold to big-game-hunting operations to be shot for sport.” No lion from Antelope Park has ever been, and never will be, intentionally sold for canned hunting. African Encounter is completely against canned hunting. Our freely available information clearly states this. A total of 39 lions have been sold by Antelope Park since the current owners acquired the property in 1987. 37 of those lions were sold, in two groups, one in 1999 and the majority in 2002 to a captive centre in South Africa. There was a pre-condition on the provision of an export permit by the Zimbabwe Wildlife Authority that those lions could not be used for canned hunting.

Furthermore, the lions that were exported were to be monitored by the relevant wildlife authorities within South Africa to ensure that the provisions of the sale were upheld. Two further lions were sold to a private breeder within Zimbabwe, not associated in any way with hunting, in 2005. No other sales of lions have ever taken place.

The article also states that tourists and volunteers “are told that the lion cubs are being raised for release in the wild,” and that “captive-bred, hand-reared lions have the potential to become man-eaters, and thus can never be allowed to roam free.” At no time are any visitors to the project informed that the captive bred lions will be released into an unfenced area. We are fully aware of the fact that captive bred lions without a natural fear of humans can become man-eaters, and this is why this form of release has never formed part of the release programme. All the information provided by Antelope Park and ALERT clearly states that the captive lions are rehabilitated into a fenced, managed eco-system, free of humans, where they will have offspring. These cubs are raised by the pride (stage 3 of the programme), in a natural environment free of any human contact. They will therefore be able to be released into the wild with the same avoidance behaviours towards humans as any wild born lion.

Furthermore, the article states that Antelope Park employs tourists and gap-year students as guides. Antelope Park does not use fee-paying tourists or gap-year students as guides. These self-funded eco-tourists pay for the opportunity to work alongside our guides and lion handlers to further the conservation, research and community work that we undertake.

As a specific example of these eco-tourists, the article mentions “agencies such as Real Gap.” David Stitt, Managing Director of Real Gap comments: "As market leaders in the gap break market, Real Gap's policy is to endorse responsible conservation programmes. Antelope Park is an ethical, well-managed programme. It is clear in all our correspondence with our volunteers that the lions that they work with are part of a captive programme. Our volunteers do not have physical contact with those lions in the stages of the programme where the aim is eventual release into the reserves and national parks."

In addition, the Sunday Times article quotes two scientists, Dr Sarel van der Merwe and Dr Luke Hunter of the Wildlife Conservation Society, on the pitfalls of releasing lions into the wild. Antelope Park has actually received a letter from Dr van der Merwe advising us and supporting us on the work and research that we were doing. In an email that was sent on June 12, 2004, he told us the following: "Generally speaking, the feeling amongst scientists is that captive bred lions cannot survive in a natural environment. I beg to differ. I have reviewed too many reports to the contrary…I believe one can rehabilitate the lions." Additionally, we have also received the following from Dr Pieter Kat, a senior lion expert, in June 2005:

"…we can begin programmes of lion reintroduction in a wide variety of depopulated areas. Such programmes will not only be immediately positive, but will also place lions squarely in the category of animals like rhinos whose plight seems to be better appreciated by the international conservation community. This is why I am appreciative and excited to be involved by the initiatives taken by Antelope Park. Through years of self-funded and determined effort, they have developed a program of re-introduction that has a very good chance of success. Predators of any description are notoriously difficult to reintroduce, but now we have at least a workable plan. As I said, the future of African lions is in African hands. Let us salute those who have been steadfast to ensure this future, and recognize that any action is better than the currently looming extinction of an African icon if we do nothing."

In August 2007, we released our first pride of lions into stage two; a managed ecosystem where the lions have been successfully hunting for six months now. They have brought down prey from warthog to adult giraffe, which is a remarkable achievement from the captive cubs that they were. The ALERT and Antelope Park programme is also involved in conservation of other species, research and community development in order to provide sustainable programs to the benefit of Africa's wildlife and its people.

With regards to the treatment of our lions, a letter we received from WWF Southern Africa Regional office (written on January 10, 2005) following visits by independent ecologists, Zimbabwe Park And Wildlife Authority, and Society for the Protection of Animals, states that the Antelope Park programme is "highly ethical and extremely well managed." Keith Dutlow BVSc, MRCVS and Lisa Marabini BVSc, MRCVS, two vets we have been working with during the past two years, complied to this in a reaction to the article, stating that “as independent consultant vets to Antelope Park since February 2006, we can attest that since that time, no animal has ever been de-clawed, de-fanged, or drugged for entertainment purposes. Also, every lion at Antelope Park has been micro-chipped and no lions have been sold to other operators nor removed from the program under suspicious circumstances since our involvement.”

Furthermore, according to the article, “[n]either the Alert programme nor Sir Ranulph Fiennes could be reached for comment.” Neither Antelope Park nor ALERT are aware of any attempts of the Sunday Times to contact them for information. In fact, the email below sent to us by Sacha Lehrfreund from the Sunday Times Picture Desk, on 6th February, requesting photographs was responded to immediately with an offer of furnishing The Times with details of our lion rehabilitation and release programme, but no such offer was accepted. When no response was received, our marketing department placed a call to the picture desk on Thursday February 7th, but this was rudely dismissed. The paper’s representative claimed to have no time to talk to us, and refused to transfer us to any of her colleagues.

From: Evans, Sara [mailto:sara.evans@sunday-times.co.uk]
Sent: Wednesday, February 06, 2008 1:46 PM
To: info@africanencounter.org
Subject: Walking with Lions - Pictures for the Sunday Times, London

Hello

We are running a feature in the Travel section about 'Walking with Lions' and I'm hoping that you could supply us with some photographs from Antelope Park, preferably of people walking alongside lions. We will of course credit your organisation. The article would appear on 10th February and we go to press tomorrow, so I'm hoping that you are able to help at such short notice.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thanks
Sacha

Sacha Lehrfreund
Sunday Times Travel
Picture Desk

Contrary to the article’s claims, Sir Ranulph Fiennes was never contacted by the Sunday Times either. His response to the article is as follows: “I am proud to be a small part of ALERT and I am ashamed of the uninformed Sunday Times article “African lion encounters: a bloody con” as an example of the worst type of libelous, inaccurate writing. This by a journalist bent on thrashing ALERT, a highly worthwhile body of individuals, black and white, in Zimbabwe whose sterling non profit efforts to protect the endangered African lion deserve praise not lies.”

Anyone is free to visit Antelope Park to see for themselves how we operate, and how our various conservation, research and community programmes are benefiting Africa. We feel that anyone wanting to make comment about the voracity of our aims should at least make an effort to find out about the programme and read the freely available literature.