The European Commission issued a press release yesterday stating that, with immediate effect, new measures were in place regarding the import of hunting trophies to fight against illegal and unsustainable practices.
“The first measure concerns the import of hunting trophies and is designed to ensure that any such imports are legal and sustainable. The species concerned are African lion, polar bear, African elephant, Southern white rhinoceros, hippopotamus and argali sheep.”
The commission recognised that, when managed sustainably, trophy hunting can help in the conservation of species and generate income for rural communities; but concerns about unsustainable practices, and the involvement of transnational organised crime syndicates, negated potential benefits.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime and Fisheries said: "The hunting of iconic species is a very sensitive area and one where Europe needs to lead at international level to promote responsible practices. I am confident that today's Regulation takes an important stand against illegal and unsustainable hunting of these precious species. These steps are an important contribution to keeping the trade legal and safe."
Previously, only an export permit from the exporting (or re-exporting) country was required to import lion trophies into the European Union (EU). This system has been subject to abuse and so the new measures now require scientific authorities in the importing EU member state to guarantee that the origin of the trophy is legal and sustainable before issuing an import permit.
Of particular concern are the lions of West & Central Africa. In January 2014, published results of surveys in West Africa estimated that only 406 (273-605) lions remain in just 1.1% of historical range. The import of lion hunting trophies from Benin, Burkino Faso and Cameroon have been banned by the EU under the new regulations. Trophies from all other lion range states will require an import permit, in addition to the export permit that is required by CITES regulations, effectively placing the African lion on CITES Appendix I for the EU.
CITES has been slow to react to growing concerns about the impact of lion trophy hunting on remnant populations. A periodic review called for by Kenya in 2004 was deferred pending the outcomes of IUCN organised regional conservation strategy workshops that were held in 2005 & 2006. These workshops failed to substantively address the issue of trade in African lions. Lions were removed from a periodic review of Felidae species at the 23rd meeting of the CITES Animals Committee (April 2008); but the Committee recommended a review be completed before the 16th Conference of the Parties (March 2013). At the 25th meeting of the Animals Committee (July, 2011), Kenya and Namibia were appointed to conduct the review and requested to report to the Animals Committee at the 26th meeting in March 2012. A draft of the review was only submitted to the Animals Committee in time for the 27th meeting (April 2014). The draft review is poorly constructed, with a reliance on out-dated information, factual inaccuracies and significant omissions - most notably journal-published reports of negative impacts of trophy hunting and a lack of appreciation of the genetic distinctiveness of West and Central African lions. The 27th meeting of the Animals Committee again deferred the periodic review to the 28th meeting (scheduled for August, 2015), after a planned IUCN Red List assessment for the African Lion, due to take place in 2015, was expected to be completed.
Yesterday’s EU announcement ensures that, at least for most of Europe, the import of lion trophies will only be possible if such hunts are proven to be legal and sustainable, whilst providing additional protection to Africa’s most threatened populations.
Both the USA and Australia are also in the process of considering whether to up-list African lions and place more stringent regulations on international trade in lions and lion parts.
ALERT recognises the role of LionAid as being instrumental over the past three years in encouraging the EU to review its regulations about the import of trophies of African Lions to member states.