Our king of the jungle is rapidly disappearing from the African savannas. In South Africa, the wild lion population is estimated to less than 3,000 while about 8,000 live in captivity. Lions are disappearing with a rapid pace due to wildlife poachers selling their body parts abroad, or rich collectors coming for their lion trophies through legal or illegal hunting.
In South Africa, it is legal for people to keep lions at private property, usually game ranches, with the purpose of canned ‘hunting’. A canned hunt is a trophy hunt in which an animal is kept within a confined area, from which the hunter is able to kill the animal and claim his/her ‘trophy’. It has been made legal, so the wild lion population would be out of risk from extinction. Yet, it is obvious that this inhumane practice of keeping lions tame in often small fenced areas with the sole purpose of being killed is far from acceptable. Many conservation projects in Southern Africa are working hard to protect their lion populations, but many challenges persist due to their great value for collectors.
The Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) is a unique example of an organisation, which has dedicated time and efforts in protecting one of the rarest kinds of panthera species – the white lion. Since 2002, it has been operating in the greater Timbavati bush region, which is the only native place for the white lion. When the organisation started, the white lion had been technically extinct in their homelands for more than a decade. Thus the WLT introduced the world’s first White Lion Reintroduction Programme, which has proven successful. Now with three prides, none of the current ten lions live in captivity. They roam freely among other animals in their natural habitat, are hunting self- sufficiently, and reproduce without human intervention.
It is a project closely connected to the indigenous community that believes in the sacred importance of the white lion. The WLT Community Conservation programme is among the initiatives to encourage the surrounding community in environmental awareness and social responsibility. They all stand together against poachers, who continue to roam the lands. The importance of protecting these animals came to light when their lioness, Kalunga, was killed in June; still searching for the cause.
No international or national law protects the white lion. However, the international community has gradually realised how serious the situation with lions in general is. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to add lions to the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act. NGOs and other organisations are pushing the EU to make the import of lion hunting trophies into Member States illegal; the European Commission has already discussed potential amendments to the EU wildlife trade regulation. Australia is among the only countries in the process of completing a total ban of imported lion parts and trophies.
What can you do? Until national and international politicians decide to do something that will protect the lion species, here is what you can do. If you ever have dreamt of having a wildlife experience on the African savanna – think wisely! The survival of the wild lion depends also on tourists. Many of these countries are economically reliant on their wildlife and thus will go great lengths to protecting it. However, tourists continue to visit farms and ranges, which are far from advocates of the well-being and survival of the wild lion. Conservationists are working passionately, but are not able to keep up this pace without help. Thus avoid lion farms posing as wildlife sanctuaries. Recently, it was discovered that Seaview Predator Park in Port Elisabeth were selling lions and tigers to game parks for hunting and export of animal bones.
Several ethical volunteer and visitor programmes exist, which are not part of a scheme promoting the trade of lion parts. Thus do your research and make conscious choices; then the game ranges based on lion captivity for tourism (and not wildlife rehabilitation) will eventually stop being profitable. In this process, you will be making an uproar for Zukhara, Letaba, Zihra, Mahra, Matsieng, Tswalu and all the other lions in Timbavati and rest of South Africa, to have a chance of roaming the savanna freely without the worry of poaching or a captive life ended by trophy hunters. Join and assist the group of people that have dedicated their lives to the cause, and become part of the movement that continues to roar for the freedom of lions.
By Charlotte Laursen, WorkingAbroad Team