Tag Archives: African People & Wildlife Fund

What Does the Endangered Species Listing Mean for Lions?

In late December last year, the African lion received a special gift from the U.S. government. Over the past few years, non-profit groups, the national and international public, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service itself, have been rallying the government to protect lions under the Endangered Species Act. And just in time for Christmas last year, the king of cats got its name on the Act. But what does the listing really mean for lion conservation? In this blog we explore what an endangered listing on a U.S. document really means for an African species.

By Deirdre Leowinata

In the Chinese zodiac, 2015 was the year of the sheep. However, the illegal hunting of Cecil the lion, the Kenyan Marsh pride poisonings, and other highly publicized lion poaching incidents of 2015 made last year the year of the lion in the media. And as if by magic, a present came at the end of the year in the form of a “Threatened” listing for the African lion on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Endangered Species Act of 1973, under the leadership of Richard Nixon, was a defining point in U.S. and global environmental protection. It made incredible leaps over the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 and the original Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. It not only recognized the value of species for education, research, and recreation, but also included species’ habitats under its umbrella of protection. In the original act, hunting and trading were not regulated at all. In less than 50 years, we have come a very long way in our policies for protecting wildlife. But we also live in an age where endangered species are disappearing faster than we can save them — scientists are calling it the sixth mass extinction. Conservation projects like our Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative have been working tirelessly to make sure that lions have a fighting chance as human and environmental changes put pressure on the remaining populations. However, lion numbers have declined by about 50% in the past 30 years, and the majority of the remaining populations are spread over only 10 regions in South and East Africa.

In 2011, five groups — the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Humane Society International petitioned the U.S. government for a listing for lions in the ESA. The petition prompted a formal review of the subspecies. In 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officially proposed ESA protection for lions after announcing that African lions were under threat of extinction by 2050. In December 2015, the landmark announcement was made: The African lion was under the protection of the ESA.

Internationally, the lion is already listed as “Vulnerable” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN 2015) Red List of Threatened Species.

So what does an American listing mean for lions? Wild lions don’t roam the United States, so how does a listing for a species in another country help?

 

  1. Hunting Permits

The largest win for the ESA listing is arguably the effects of a section of the act that affects sport hunting imports. Regulations for importing trophies ensure they come from countries with sound management plans and sustainable lion populations, with penalties for those who do not follow the rules. This not only ensures that U.S. trophy seekers hunt from viable populations, but also incentivizes countries that rely on sport hunting to maintain population management standards. It is also up to the hunter to demonstrate that all of these standards have been met, and that requirement alone might slow down the number of permits processed.

 

  1. International Trade

The U.S. is currently the world’s largest lion trophy importer, with 24 countries in Africa participating in the lion trade. Closely related to the hunting permit provisions, controlling what can be imported will have a strong impact on the number of lion products (including trophies) that are crossing the border and the integrity of their source countries. Because of the ESA provisions for sustainable management as mentioned above, the listing will ensure that American importers or international exporters are doing so in a way that will not impair lion populations.

 

  1. Provision of Assistance for Conservation Efforts

Under ESA protection, lions and the programs that protect them will gain access to more financial assistance, as well as more help on the ground. This part of the Act is vague, but because of the ESA mandate to protect critical habitat of listed species, conservation groups may be able to levy this for government funding. In the very least, it increases the funding potential for environmental non-profits, which often struggle to make small budgets stretch across programs.

 

  1. Symbolism

Like a handshake shared between two leaders, a gesture can send a very powerful message. By shielding lions under the proverbial wing, the U.S. is sending a message of solidarity to lion conservation groups and the rest of the world. Aside from the ways in which this document will aid in conservation funding and other assistance, a vote of support from the government can do a world of good in other ways.

 

At the African People & Wildlife Fund, we have committed to help conserve Tanzania’s lion populations through community-based projects, educating local people about the importance of the species, and continuing to work on projects like our Living Walls to prevent retaliatory lion killings, which the IUCN suggests is an even greater threat to lions than sport hunting. With your help, we are expanding our initiatives across rural communities in Northern Tanzania where most of these killings take place. Tanzania may be one of the last lion strongholds on Earth right now. Together with you and the new support of the ESA, we are extremely hopeful that we can help protect the lion populations of Tanzania so they can grow and thrive in Africa once more.

Echoing the words of hope from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, this is an opportunity for change, and it is up to all of us to help save these big cats.

If you would like to contribute to our growing efforts to protect big cats on the ground in Tanzania, please visit our donation page here.

 

References

Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, P.F., Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. (2015). Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15951A79929984.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T15951A79929984.en. Downloaded on 30 December 2015.

Florida Museum of Natural History. History of the United States Endangered Species Act.https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/education/ESA.htm. Accessed on 4 January 2016.

Platt, J.R. (2014). African Lions Face Extinction by 2050, Could Gain Endangered Species Act Protection. Scientific American (2014).

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2014). Service Proposes Endangered Species Act Protection for the African Lion.

Born Free U.S.A. www.bornfreeusa.org

A Big Year for African Wildlife: Seven Milestones of 2015

This story was original published on National Geographic Cat Watch on January 15th, 2016.

 

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.
Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.

With the closing of 2015 comes the end of a big chapter for Africa and its spectacular wildlife. Looking back on the year, we reflect on the big wins and big changes for wildlife conservation in this huge, unique continent. Here are the top seven milestones for African wildlife in 2015.

By Deirdre Leowinata

  1. The U.S. Government listed African Lions under the Endangered Species Act.

To cap a year that won the world over in a fervor of lion activism, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in late December that it would put the king of cats on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This means a few things, especially for hunting permits and conservation aid, but the significance is that lions have a new and influential official guardian.

  1. Cecil the Lion spurred policy changes and donations to wildlife conservation.

#CeciltheLion was by far the most famous animal of 2015, and is right up there with Mickey Mouse on the list of animals that have become a household name. The poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer triggered a global outcry for lion conservation unlike any the world has seen. And it worked. Not only did Cecil ignite a rush of donations to big-cat conservation and other wildlife conservation groups but it affected policy as well. New policies in place or in the works include commitments to ban the import of lion trophies by France and Britain, and banning the transport of animal trophies by more than 40 airlines. Whether it affected the U.S. decision to list lions on the ESA is unknown, but it probably didn’t hurt.

  1. African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares of forest by 2030.

In a massive United Nations initiative officially referred to as AFR100, more than a dozen of Africa’s 54 countries pledged to restore their forests in a continent-wide effort to combat climate change and protect ecosystems. These countries include hosts of some of the continent’s most precious landscapes, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, both of which house the last remaining populations of some of the world’s most unique species.

  1. U.S. and Chinese governments joined forces to put a final ban on the ivory trade.

In September, the U.S. and Chinese governments announced an agreement to work together toalmost completely ban the import and export of ivory. If it plays out, the agreement is a monumental decision for African elephants. China is the world’s top ivory consumer, and stopping the trade could save 30,000 elephants a year.

  1. Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, encouraging the entire Roman Catholic church to care for our planet.

Okay, we have to say it: Pope Francis has done a lot for everyone this year, but this is a big deal. The encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), is a papal document that every bishop and every priest of the Roman Catholic church has an obligation to read, and every member of the church has an obligation to recognize. And not only does this papal document recognize manmade global warming but it also speaks to issues of pollution, water, biodiversity, human life, equality, and the ethics of it all.

  1. The UN recognized wildlife trafficking as a transnational crime.

After a UN General Assembly decision in July of this year, wildlife trafficking officially became a serious crime. The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Achim Steiner, called the resolution “a historic step forward,” and it could well be a defining moment. The resolution not only called on nations to legislate and cooperate on illegal trafficking enforcement but also recognized its link with organized crime and suffering in local communities. It could mean the world to species such as the rhino that are on the brink of extinction.

  1. NGOs and Chinese Internet Kingpin Tencent joined forces for elephants.

The Nature Conservancy and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have partnered with Tencent, a major Chinese Internet company, to battle online wildlife trafficking and promote the conservation of elephants. In the bigger picture, the collaboration is the first conservation project Tencent has partnered on. It, along with the recent U.S.-China partnership, may be a sign of China’s changing attitudes on wildlife conservation, which could mean a whole lot more for wildlife from 2016 onwards.

 

And as a fun bonus…2015 also brought Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video, featuring a slew of beautiful African wildlife, including her very own lion friend. Now, celebrity endorsements can be a bit shallow, and the video may misguide viewers about the behavior of wild lions (we of course do not promote lion handling), but there’s something to be said for the reach of a music video with over 300 million views. An influencer is an influencer, and out of all the celebrities, Ms. Swift and her video are not bad to have on your side. Plus, all of the funds generated by the video went to the African Parks Foundation of America. Until now Swift has been very generous to humanities, but this is the first time she has donated to conservation efforts. Perhaps this could be the beckoning call we needed.

Are Fences the Solution for Protecting Africa’s National Parks?

An aerial image of the sharp line formed by the fence of a rhino sanctuary.
(Photo by George Wittemyer)

With the expansion of human populations, instances of human-wildlife conflict become increasingly frequent. One proposed solution to protect both people and wildlife is the implementation of fences around established protected areas. Many conservation scientists argue that these fences may do more harm than good. A recent paper published in June by some of the world’s most renowned conservation scientists gives policy makers the guidelines they need to decide whether a fence is the best solution for them.

By Deirdre Leowinata

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on Thursday July 9th, 2015

To fence or not to fence…

That is the question that has some members of the conservation community in knots. Subjects involving land use policy, such as the park size debate of the 1970s and 1980s, tend to garner attention both in and out of the scientific community, and fencing is no different. The outcomes of this particular battle have the potential to change the lives of millions of people as well as wildlife species dependent on some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes, so it might be wise to pay attention.

A recent paper co-authored by 45 scientists from around the world aims to help governments and policy-makers choose what protection plan is right for their parks by providing six critical factors to assess when making fencing decisions. The comprehensive paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, accounts for social and economic factors in addition to environmental ones. The factors are: economics, edge permeability, reserve design, connectivity, ecosystem services, and communities.

A fence in Mali-Gourma region, purpose unknown.
(Photo by Jake Wall)

In Africa, the subject of fencing is especially sensitive because many of its animals require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, for example, is home to the largest overland migration on the planet, with huge numbers of wildebeest and other hoofed animals moving around a 30,000-km2 area. The migration helps drive the regional patterns of biodiversity, including prey availability for the big cats. Closer to our headquarters on the Maasai Steppe, Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park makes for a perfect example of a dry season haven, with some of Tanzania’s highest concentrations of wildlife migrating into the area when the seasonal rains stop – including one of Africa’s only growing population of elephants. Fencing lands such as the Serengeti or Tarangire National Parks could significantly and permanently alter entire processes and landscapes by keeping ecosystem engineers such as wildebeest and elephants from their regular migrations. Those consequences would almost certainly trickle down to the communities inhabiting those regions and may also have unintended and ironic effects on the animals they’re built to protect.

A wildebeest dies after it is caught in a fence in Mara Kenya
(Photo by Jackson Looseyia)

Despite the uncertainty of fencing effects on ecosystems, certain African countries have already taken steps in new directions. Rwanda has fenced the 120-km border of its Akagera National Park in an attempt to stem human-wildlife conflict — at a cost of $2.5 million. Human-wildlife conflict may be the most common reason to fence protected areas; Uganda is leaning toward fencing all of its parks, and Malawi is contemplating using electric fence on all of its parks.

There are, as the authors do point out, multiple positive draws to fencing. Fences can be used to stop disease transmission, prevent the entry of invasive species, and curb direct resource extraction. In certain cases, such as the Australian drylands, fencing may currently be the best solution. However, because of the weighty financial and potential ecological costs of such an undertaking, it must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

cheetah_Laly
 (Photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld)

Dryland ecosystems such as those in the Serengeti-Mara system of East Africa account for 41% of the world’s land and house a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity as well as 2 billion of its people. As the paper points out, those 2 billion people include some of the world’s most marginalized communities, such as the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe that dominates the East African communities where we work. The African People & Wildlife Fund has spent the last 10 years developing strategies to reduce human-wildlife conflict that benefit both parties, with very encouraging results. In Northern Tanzania, access to resources such as seasonal water holes and grazing lands are necessary to support the communities of people and wildlife that have lived here for hundreds of years. In these landscapes, the reduced mobility that a fence might cause could mean the loss of either an iconic culture, or an iconic cat. This reinforces the need to develop solutions that promote coexistence, keeping both cats and cultures alive.

 

References:

Borner, M. (1985). The increasing isolation of Tarangire National Park. Oryx 19: 91-96.

Durant, S.M., Becker, M.S., Creel, S., Bashir, S., Dickman, A.J., Beudels-Jamar, R.C., Lichtenfeld, L., Hilborn, R., Wall, J., Wittemyer, G., Badamjav, L., Blake, S., Boitani, L, Breitenmoser, C., Broekhuis, F., Christianson, D., Cozzi, G., Davenport, T.R.B., Deutsch, J., Devillers, P., Dollar, L., Dolrenry, S., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Dröge, E., FitzHerbert, E., Foley, C., Hazzah, L., Hopcraft, J.G.C., Ikanda, D., Jacobson, A., Joubert, D., Kelly, M.J., Milanzi, J., Mitchell, N., M’Soka, J., Msuha, M., Mweetwa, T., Nyahongo, J., Rosenblatt, E., Schuette, P., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Sinclair, A.R.E., Price, M.R.S., Zimmerman, A., and N. Pettorelli (2015). Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 52: 544-551.

Holdo R.M., Holt, R.D., and J.M. Fryxell (2009). Opposing rainfall and plant nutritional gradients best explain the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. The American Naturalist 173: 431-445.

Seeing Lions: An Intern’s Experience at Noloholo’s Environmental Summer Camp

By Savannah Swinea

Savannah_and_Campers

The road we travel is so bumpy – I fear every moment that I will be thrown out into the outskirts of Tarangire National Park. But the students around me show no fear, only happiness and excitement, so I relax as we traverse the Maasai Steppe of Northern Tanzania spotting zebra, giraffe, and antelope. Suddenly, the car stops and all heads turn as we are told that lions are nearby. We see them in the distance, and the students become quiet with awe as they stare through their binoculars. I ask, “Have you ever seen lions before?” They all shake their heads, saying “no” without words. The two lionesses lie close together under the shade of an acacia tree. After a long period of silent observation, the Land Rover starts again and we continue to explore the savannah ecosystem. When we return to the campsite, it is evident that the journey has sparked the interest of the students, and their environmental teachings about these beautifully unique creatures can finally be put into the perspective of one lucky enough to see them in person.

CampLion-1_Twitter

As an intern in the Environmental Education department of the African People and Wildlife Fund, I work closely with the primary school students who venture to Noloholo as part of the environmental summer camps hosted here. The camps give top students in the area practical knowledge of their environment and how to take care of it, and sometimes provide a glimpse at the vulnerable species that become more rare every day. The students are not only intelligent and motivated but are also kind and fun-loving. I believe their sense of adventure and awareness of their environment will allow them to succeed as stewards of the country that is their home: Tanzania.

Camp kids playing at Noloholo

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it: