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Bad to the bone: controversial new CITES regulations

Bad to the bone: controversial new CITES regulations E2DAN / Shutterstock
07 Oct
Measures proposed at CITES to save African lions stop short of providing full protection

It was seen as being the big symbolic step which would confirm the dire straits wild African lions have found themselves in. Many conservationists hoped that when the world convened in Johannesburg, for COP17 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), a successful upgrading of Panthera leo to Appendix I would be the signal the world needs to enforce policies which would halt the dramatic decline.

While the nine countries proposing the amendment (Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Togo) argued for its adoption, the proposal had opponents too. South Africa, in particular, made the case that its large-scale captive breeding industry – which rears lions for so-called ‘trophy hunting’, as well as to export lion parts for usage in traditional medicines in China, Laos, and Vietnam – would be handicapped by the higher listing. There were 5,800 captive bred lions in South Africa in 2013, a number which had ‘almost doubled since 2005’, according to a report by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford.

By leaving open the door for captive lion breeding facilities, CITES parties have failed to protect lions and other big cats from this heinous trade

Eventually, a compromise was reached. Lions remain on Appendix II, enabling the captive breeding industry to continue unhindered, as long as ‘annual export quotas [are] established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat’. However an agreed ‘zero annual export quota’ will henceforth ban the commercial trade of ‘specimens of bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild’.

‘The moratorium on commercial exports from wild lions is of course welcome,’ says Mark Jones, Associate Director at the Born Free Foundation. ‘However, by leaving open the door for captive lion breeding facilities, CITES parties have failed to protect lions and other big cats from this heinous trade. Captive breeders will continue to speed-breed lions and condemn them to short, miserable lives in commercial breeding facilities.’

This was published in the November 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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