I recently received a press statement put out on 14 February jointly by Antelope Park, ALERT, and Ranulph Fiennes in response to the Sunday Times article by Chris Haslam "African lion encounters: a bloody con," published on February 10, 2008. Haslam had contacted me on 20 January, saying, “I'm a reporter working the conservation and travel beats for the Sunday Times in London. Canned hunting is not a big issue to British readers - most would agree it's abhorrent but few would ever know anybody who had participated. But some may already be involved without knowing it. I've heard - and I'm looking to you for confirmation - that a number of the Walking with Lions attractions operating across Zim, Zam and RSA are breeding lions purely for commercial gain at best and for canned hunting at worst.
Clearly if I could establish a link between that cuddly, feel-good conservation experience and the callous trophy hunter then I've got a story.”
Fair enough, I thought, for we all know the garments of cant, humbug and hypocrisy which which clothe conservation. So I replied, “Walking with Lions (ALERT) in Zimbabwe may have sold lion to canned lion hunting operations (in South Africa), but I cannot confirm this. Quinton Jones who is spearheading our campaign against the proposal to start a Walking with Lions operation in Zambia has looked into their Zim operation and could tell you more on this. As yet, there is no Zambia connection with canned lion hunting, but it cannot be far off if such a project is allowed to come to fruition in Livingstone. The lion have to be released somewhere: if in the wild - they will eat people; if on game ranches - they will be hunted. These projects are of highly dubious conservation value, and self-publicists like Rannulph Fiennes would do well to avoid being linked to them.
See http://www.lionscam.blogspot.com/ and have a word with Quinton.” I then concluded, “ The present situation is that we are waiting for the Environmental Council of Zambia to call for public comment on the EIA submitted to them by ALERT. Today they told me that ALERT'S, Steve McCormick had received a quote from ECZ for this process and had asked to pay in installments. Once this is done they (ECZ) will post the EIA for comment.” To which Haslam replied, “Thanks - I'll contact Quentin. I'd also be interested to hear from anyone else copied in on this correspondence with evidence to support the argument either for or against the captive breeding of lions for commercial gain.”
And Haslam fired back, “Thanks - I'll contact Quentin. I'd also be interested to hear from anyone else copied in on this correspondence with evidence to support the argument either for or against the captive breeding of lions for commercial gain.”
And of course Haslam’s article appeared twelve days later in which this very bold assertion was made: “The Sunday Times, however, has learnt that, far from being released into the wild, as many as 59 lion cubs raised at Antelope Park have been sold to big-game-hunting operations to be shot for sport.”
I don’t know where Haslam got this information, not, I believe from Quinton, nor whether it is true – but one presumes he will provide his sources, something he should perhaps have done in the first place. Having been responsible for the implementation of the CITES convention in South Africa I am only too aware of the mess conservation is in there with nine provinces all responsible for their own conservation affairs and with little experience or expertise or dedication to bring to bear on the problem of those bending the rules where there is money involved.
Then of course came the press statement of 14 February, which gives the impression of having been written at rush hour on the tube. As I wrote to the Sunday Times, “ The press statement attempts to deal with what I consider are two essential points: 1) that ALERT exported 37 lion to South African captive centres and that there was no intention to sell them to a canned hunting operation. This is naïve or disingenuous in the extreme given the many conservation bandits at work in the semi-autonomous nine provinces of South Africa. And to state that "there was a pre-condition on the provision of an export permit by the Zimbabwe Wildlife Authority that those lions could not be used for canned hunting" shows a degree of respect for the Zimbabwean Government and its powers which is touching.
The other crucial issue which got us all huffing and puffing in the first place in Zambia is 2) the question of what will happen to the lion once they tire of being cuddled and strolled about with. ALERT'S statement denies that tourists and volunteers are told that the lion cubs are being raised for release in the wild, or that "this form of release has never formed part of the release programme ", yet concluding the paragraph by saying "they will therefore be able to be released into the wild with the same avoidance behaviours towards humans as any wild born lion." This is all very confusing and clearly contradictory.
In the statement put out by ALERT's own consultants, ENVSOL CONSULT; Environmental Solutions Consultants, POSTNET BOX5, E891 Lusaka Tel: 096 450218 on 11 May 2007 for a scoping meeting held in Livingstone on 17 May 2007, supposedly leading to the preparation of environmental impact statement, but which has yet to see the light of day now fully nine months later, they wrote: "The African Lion & Environmental Research Trust (ALERT), supported by African Encounter, under the trading name of Lion Encounter (Zambia) Limited is bringing a lion rehabilitation & release into the wild program to Zambia". Towards the end of the statement stage four of the project is described as follows: "In stage four the lions born in stage three can be released into the wild where their numbers have been most diminished."
As they say in Zambia, "I have got a problem."