by Fortunate M. Phaka
The more than 180 nations that are party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) must be commended for some tough decisions they have taken in the past. These are decisions that have contributed immensely to protection of endangered wildlife from the illegal wildlife trade market. The decision concerning trade in lions made at the 17th meeting of the conference of the parties (CoP17) goes down in history as another one of those tough decisions. A significant number of conservationists were not satisfied with the outcomes of a proposal to afford African Lions better protection. For the sake of the youth that was not well represented at the conference, parties should have deliberated more wisely. Our future is inexplicably tied to that of African lions which means that our lives and livelihoods were essentially denied better protection from the dangers associated with wildlife trade.
Parties could have afforded us a chance at a better future by exercising the Rio Declaration’s precautionary principle. South Africa in particular, being one of the more popular lion hunting destinations, should have adopted a risk-averse approach as provided by its National Environmental Management Act. The very same act provides for research into alternatives that may be less detrimental to the environment than a certain conservation action. These basic principles of environmental management may not have been followed when protection of African lions was being discussed. Unless empirical evidence shows beyond doubt that lion populations can prosper while on Appendix II then the decision made at CoP17 would have been welcomed by many. Unless empirical research shows that a dead lion is worth more and will benefit more people over a longer term than a living one then the consensus reached by parties at CoP17 would be understandable.
Parties should not forget that conservation is a science first and foremost, thus their actions should be guided by sound research and not prospects of short-term monetary gain. More livelihoods will benefit from long term thinking and very few currently benefit from consumptive use. Short term thinking and subjective decisions have led to our current conservation problems and parties at CoP17 may have repeated the mistakes our forefathers. The world’s biggest conservation science organisation (IUCN) discourages captive lion breeding as it threatens wild populations and the move at CoP17 was contrary to this. The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa and the global community echo IUCN’s sentiments. It is encouraging to see opposing camps uniting for a common cause but equally discouraging to see that some nations at CoP17 were not on the same page as the rest of us.