Born Free Foundation calls on Andrea Leadsom to help protect Kenya’s lion population

Andrea Leadsom and Lion
The Born Free Foundation have called on Andrea Leadsom to help the fight to save Africa's lion population. Photos: Born Free Foundation / Policy Exchange

The Born Free Foundation has joined forces with IFAW, Lion Aid, Four Paws and Save Me in calling on the new British Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom MP, to give greater protection to Africa’s rapidly declining wild lion population.

Ahead of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the coalition of lion protection charities is calling on the UK Government and the European Union (EU) to vote for an end to commercial trade in African lions.

The conference is due to take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24th September to 5th October.

“Whilst the UK Government has championed the need to deal with wildlife trafficking and species decline, Africa’s lions remain in crisis. We are calling on the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the new Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom MP, to support the highest level of protection for lions to save the future of the species and rubber-stamp Britain’s premier position on the conservation of endangered animals.”

– Will Travers OBE, President and CEO of Born Free Foundation

African lions are currently listed on Appendix II of CITES, which allows regulated international commercial trade, but a group of nine Western and Central African countries, have tabled a proposal for all African lion populations to be transferred to Appendix I. This would effectively ban commercial cross-border trade in lions and their body parts and radically reduce the negative and destructive impact of trophy hunting which, is incredibly  regarded as a non-commercial activity.

However, EU institutions and many Member States may instead look for a compromise with some populations transferred to Appendix I and some remaining on Appendix II.

The future for Africa’s lion population looks bleak with scientific analysis carried out last year by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), showing a decline by 43% across the African continent over the past 21 years. Prides now occupy as little as 8% of their historic range.

The Lion population is threatened by habitat loss, rapidly declining prey populations, persecution by people who see them as a threat to their safety and livestock and unsustainable trophy hunting.

Additionally, there is international demand for their body parts, particularly bones which are used as a replacement for tiger bone in Asian medicines and tonics.

“With Africa’s lions in precipitous decline, we need to do everything we can to protect them.

“Just over half a century ago there were perhaps half a million lions across Africa; now there are probably less than 20,000. Yet international trade in lion trophies, bones, skins and other products is increasing. We need to clamp down now before it’s too late. A split listing will only compromise enforcement efforts and provide a means of laundering products derived from beleaguered lion populations into trade.”

 – Will Travers OBE, President and CEO of Born Free Foundation

The EU forms the largest single voting bloc at CITES meetings with 28 votes with its Member States reaching a common position on proposals prior to CITES meetings.

The coalition has also written to all EU Member State Environment Ministers and their CITES officials urging them to support the highest level of protection for lions. The action follows a letter signed by 17 internationally renowned scientists and conservationists, including Born Free Co-Founder and Trustee, Virginia McKenna OBE and her son, Will Travers OBE, which was sent to key EU contacts on 24th June.

“There is no doubt that African lion population numbers have significantly declined in a very short amount of time, and that a diversity of factors contributed to this decline.

“There is also no doubt that lions have remained, for some inexplicable reason, a species largely out of the spotlight of international concern.

“It is encouraging that we are now finally paying proper attention, and focusing on the means by which we can halt and even reverse declines of this keystone species in African ecosystems.

“One immediate action we can and should take is to halt all future trade in lion products. There is no reason to allow trade in a species experiencing massive population declines and for which we have so little hard scientific evidence of current population numbers and impacts of offtake.

“The correct listing should be on CITES Appendix I and the EU Member States should be leading efforts to enable this change in listing.” – Dr Pieter Kat, director of Lion Aid

The coalition will also be holding a vigil outside Parliament on 30th July to mark the first anniversary of the death of Cecil the Lion. The vigil, will take place at 7pm to coincide with another major event focusing on Cecil being held in Washington DC.