tagged w/ Serengeti
American hunters are emerging as a strong and growing threat to the survival of African lions, with demand for trophy rugs and necklaces driving the animals towards extinction, a coalition of wildlife organisations has said.
Demand for hunting trophies, such as lion skin rugs, and a thriving trade in animal parts in the US and across the globe have raised the threat levels for African lions, which are already under assault because of conflicts with local villagers and shrinking habitat.
"The African lion is a species in crisis," said Jeff Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "The king of the jungle is heading toward extinction, and yet Americans continue to kill lions for sport."
Two-thirds of the lions hunted for sport were brought to America over the last 10 years, a report released by the coalition said.
The organisations, which include IFAW, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, Born Free and Defenders of Wildlife, called on the White House to ban the import of lion trophies and parts by listing the animals as endangered species.
The number of wild African lions has fallen sharply in the last 100 years, the organisations said. A century ago, as many as 200,000 roamed across Africa. Now, by some estimates, fewer than 40,000 remain in the wild; others put the figure for survivors at 23,000, and they have vanished from 80% of the areas where they once roamed.
Lions have become extinct in 26 countries. Only seven countries – Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – are believed to contain more than 1,000 lions each, according to the Panthera conservation group – which is not part of the coalition making the appeal.
The single biggest threat by far to the animals' survival is humans, though not necessarily western hunters. "It is just the very, very widespread killing of lions, mostly in a conflict situation, by anyone who is trying to farm livestock in Africa and finds it very difficult to co-exist with lions," said Luke Hunter, the executive vice-president of Panthera.
There is also a lot of pressure on lion habitats with wilderness areas shrinking to build roads – such as the controversial highway across the Serengeti – or to make room for agriculture.
But the report by the wildlife coalition, filed with the White House on Tuesday, said western hunters were a growing danger to the lions' survival.
Between 1999 and 2008, 64% of the 5,663 lions that were killed in the African wild for sport ended up being shipped to America, it said. It also said the numbers had risen sharply in those 10 years, with more than twice as many lions taken as trophies by US hunters in 2008 than in 1999. In addition to personal trophies, Americans are also the world's biggest buyers of lion carcasses and body parts, including claws, skulls, bones and penises. In the same years, the US imported 63% of the 2,715 lion specimens put up for sale.
For some countries, including Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique, hunting for sport was the main threat to the lions' existence. But even in countries which did not attract large numbers of tourists on hunting trips, the practice was taking a growing toll.
The conservationists noted that hunters' penchant for bagging a male lion risked wiping out entire prides. The loss of the alpha male could set off a struggle for supremacy among the survivors that could lead to further deaths of adult male lions, or male cubs seen as potential threats.
A hunting ban, the conservationists said, would reduce that threat by taking Americans out of the game. It's one of a range of threats to the survival of the species, said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. "But what is most certainly true is that of all the threats to the African lion, the one we can best address here in this country is their import."
Flocken noted that all of the other big cats are protected – jaguars, leopards and tigers. "African lions are the only ones left out there," he said.
However, other wildlife experts argued that a total hunting ban was a "nuclear option". They said responsible hunting could in some cases help conserve populations by maintaining wilderness areas. Existing US and international regulations, such as the Cites conventions against trafficking in endangered species, could also be reinforced to protect lions, they said.
"If you remove hunting, the very real risk is that you force African governments to generate revenue from that land and the obvious thing is cattle and crops which just wipe out habitats," said Hunter.American hunters are emerging as a strong and growing threat to the survival of... more
Scientists: Serengeti on road to ruin
Photo: Conservationists say a proposed new road through the Serengeti National Park will disrupt migratory patterns of wildebeests
Serengeti on road to ruin, scientists warn
By Matthew Knight for CNN
September 21, 2010 11:07 a.m. EDT
London, England (CNN) -- Plans to build a highway through Tanzania's Serengeti National Park will destroy one of the world's last great wildlife sanctuaries, a group of conservation experts has warned.
Writing in the journal Nature, 27 scientists have called for a re-think on a proposed 50 kilometer (31 mile) road which they say will cause "environmental disaster."
Under plans approved by the Tanzanian government earlier this year, the trade route would bisect a northern part of the park, forming part of the 170 kilometer-long Arusha-Musoma highway slated to run from the Tanzanian coast to Lake Victoria, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Construction is expected to begin in 2012.
In "Road will ruin Serengeti," lead author Andrew Dobson, professor at the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, says laying a track across the park would disrupt the annual migratory patterns of tens of thousands of zebras and gazelles, and 1.3 million wildebeest.
Using computer simulations the scientists estimate that if the wildebeests' access to the Mara river in Kenya is blocked their numbers "will fall to less than 300,000."
The ecosystem could flip into being a source of atmospheric CO2
--Scientists writing in 'Nature'
"This would lead to more grass fires, which would further diminish the quality of grazing by volatizing minerals, and the ecosystem could flip into being a source of atmospheric CO2," the scientists said.
In addition to simulations, the scientists also cite the experience of other park ecosystems where large mammal migration has been hindered by roads and fences.
In Canada's Banff National Park in Canada, "habitat fragmentation" has led to the "collapse of at least six of the last 24 terrestrial migratory species left in the world."
In Africa, the ecosystems of Etosha National Park in Namibia and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana have collapsed to "a less diverse and less productive state," the scientists said.
Scientists say a different route running south of the Serengeti should be considered to preserve the 1.2 million hectare UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This alternative route could utilize an existing network of gravel roads and would only be 50 kilometers longer than the proposed northern route, the scientists said.
While they acknowledge that Tanzania needs improved infrastructure to facilitate economic development, they argue that the road would damage wildlife tourism -- "a cornerstone" of the country's economy which was worth an estimated $824 million in 2005.
The Nature article adds weight to the growing pressure on the Tanzanian government to reconsider its position regarding the road.
Last month, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London voiced their concerns and campaigns against the highway are gaining support on social networking sites Facebook ("Stop the Serengeti Highway") and Twitter ("SaveSerengeti").
Earlier this year, Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete tried to placate opponents of the project by announcing that the section of new road running through the Serengeti would not be tarmacked.
"I am also a conservation ally and I assure you I'm not going to allow something that will ruin the ecosystem to be built," President Kikwete said in an address to the nation in July.Scientists: Serengeti on road to ruin... more
The wildebeest also called the gnu an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a hooved mammal.
The name gnu comes from a Bushman word for the wildebeest's bellow.
Only one in every six calves survives its first year.
Both males and females have horns, although the male's horns are thicker and heavier than the female's.
To groom itself, the wildebeest rubs its face either on the ground or against a tree or partner.
All wildebeest populations across Africa have declined except for the Serengeti population
Wildebeest are noisy creatures. Bulls have an array of loud vocalizations, from moans to explosive snorts.
Wildebeest grow to 1.151.4 metres (3 ft 9 in4 ft 7 in) at the shoulder and weigh 150250 kilograms (330550 pounds).
They inhabit the plains and open woodlands of Africa, especially the Serengeti. Wildebeest can live more than 20 years if they are not snatched by crocodiles, lions or illness.
Wildebeests live in more densely packed herds than any other large mammal, except for humans.
Calves can stand and run within 3-7 minutes after birth.
At night white-bearded wildebeest sleep on the ground in rows; this provides them with the security of being in a group while allowing them space to run in case of an emergency.
Their spectacular northward migration in search of greener pastures is dictated by weather patterns, but usually takes place in May or June. It is considered one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on Earth, involving up to 1.5 million wildebeests as well as hundreds of thousands of other animals, including zebra and gazelle.
The wildebeest also called the gnu an antelope of the genus Connochaetes. It is a... more