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My response to: EU set to ban lion hunting trophy imports | The Parliament Magazine


My first reaction to this story was annoyance that the journalist couldn’t get her facts right. But then as I read it I became more frustrated at yet another example of regulations that are purported to be important for conservation when they are really more about appeasing the anti-hunting lobby. I wish the journalist that wrote the piece had spent a little more effort questioning what she was told instead of just repeating what she was told.

First, let’s get the facts straight. The article says that CITES regulations do not apply to hunting trophies, as they are considered “household and personal effects.” That is not quite the whole story. CITES Resolution Conf. 13.7 (Rev. CoP16) states: “They [Hunting trophies] will be exempted as personal effects if both the countries of import and export implement the personal and household effects exemption for the species and the specimen at the time of import, export or re-export was worn, carried or included in personal baggage. [Bolding mine].

In other words, if your hunting trophy is shipped to you after you return home, CITES applies. I guess some hunting trophies might be brought home in personal baggage. But in more than 10 years doing wildlife inspections, I never once saw that happen. Typically the item is processed by a taxidermist in-country and then shipped to the owner, or the hunting trophies are dried, dusted with preservative and insecticide, and shipped to the owner. In either case a CITES permit would be required.

Secondly, as I understand it, the new EU Regulations will now require import permits for hunting trophies being imported into Europe as personal effects. Other types of hunting trophy imports into Europe already required European import permits. It is not, as suggested by the title of the story, a ban on the import of lion hunting trophies.

A more accurate explanation is that the EU will be able to reject permit applications for lions hunted in those countries that are considered especially threatened.

The story goes on to note:

A survey revealed last year that, tragically, there are only about 400 lions left in the wild in West Africa.”


Now, the commission is set to ban imports of lion hunting trophies into the EU from several West African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Benin.”

So apparently this regulation is particularly important to the conservation of West African lions. OK. That seems reasonable at first glance. But to what extent is trophy hunting a threat to lions in West Africa?

The story continues with…“Between 2008 and 2012, nearly 1500 lion hunting trophies were imported into the EU. While the majority came from South Africa, where most hunted lions are bred in captivity, some were shot in the wild and came from highly endangered populations.”

I decided to check the CITES Trade Database to see just how rampant the export of lion hunting trophies is from West Africa.

I searched for all exports of African lion hunting trophies exported to any EU country between 2008 and 2012. I got a total of 1697. Keep in mind that this does not translate to 1697 lions. Many of the exports were skins, some were skulls, and others didn’t specify. So in some cases there were two or more items exported as hunting trophies that came from the same animal.

Of these 1697 lion hunting trophies, a grand total of 11 were exported out of West African countries. Of the 1060 that were exported from South Africa, 547 were listed as being from captive bred animals.

The story quotes Liberal MEP Catherine Bearder as saying the move is “a vitally important step for the conservation of lions and other endangered species.

How exactly is stopping the few lion trophies coming out of West Africa “a vitally important step for the conservation of lions?” African lions have been declining because of due to habitat loss, reduced availability of prey and especially, increased human-lion conflicts. Restricting trophy hunting does nothing to resolve those threats. If anything, sport hunting could be used as a tool to support the conservation of African lions.

The other five species covered under the new regulations are the African elephant, southern white rhinoceros, hippopotamus, polar bear and argali sheep. None of these are endangered species, and none are threatened by trophy hunting. Including polar bears on this list is particularly silly, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.

These new regulations seem to have much less to do with conservation and more to do with appeasing the anti-hunting lobby. So why not be honest and say so? Wrapping up regulations like these as important conservation measures is disingenuous at best. Worst still, promoting these new regulations may take pressure off decision makers to do something that would really support wildlife conservation.

So the politicians and the groups that called for these new regulations can go back to their supporters and show how hard they are working to save lions and other beasts.

Meanwhile, the African lion will continue to slowly disappear…


From the story:

The move has been welcomed by animal welfare activists, with Liberal MEP Catherine Bearder calling it “a vitally important step for the conservation of lions and other endangered species”.

A survey revealed last year that, tragically, there are only about 400 lions left in the wild in west Africa.

Up until now, the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora (Cites) listed lions as a protected species, whereby trade in lion parts was strictly regulated.

However, these regulations do not apply to hunting trophies, as they are considered “household and personal effects” by the treaty.

Bearder explained that “this derogation had allowed people to use the EU as a route for trading animal parts for use in quack medicines”.

She added that “this glaring loophole had allowed the import of hunting trophies from lions which are on the brink of extinction”.

Now, the commission is set to ban imports of lion hunting trophies into the EU from several west African countries, such as Burkina Faso and Benin.

“This glaring loophole had allowed the import of hunting trophies from lions which are on the brink of extinction” – Catherine Bearder

The UK deputy was pleased that these rules would bring “better protection for lions and other endangered species”…

via EU set to ban lion hunting trophy imports | The Parliament Magazine.

Canada opts not to block international trade in 76 endangered species – World – CBC News

Canada opts not to block international trade in 76 endangered species – World – CBC News.

This story is so full of mistakes and half-truths that it makes my head hurt…

Yes, Canada has taken Reservations on all of the changes to the CITES species listings that were agreed to at CITES CoP 16 in Bangkok (2013). And no, I don’t like it either. But like it or not there is a logical reason for doing so.

Under existing government processes, staff can’t amend the Wild Animal and Plant Trade Regulations (WAPTR) to include the new CITES listings within the 90 days required by the Convention and Canadian law (as per the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). So the alternatives are either take out a reservation on all the listings until the amendments can be put in place (and then lift the reservations), or be in violation of Canadian law.

This hasn’t been a secret. Canada’s reservations were published by the CITES Secretariat back in June 2013 in Notification to the Parties No 2013/027 which states:

In addition, on 5 June Canada entered a reservation with respect to all amendments to Appendices I and II of the Convention adopted at CoP16, owing to the necessity to complete its domestic legal requirements for the entry into force of these amendments.”

Attributing this information to “Recently released documents…” is absurd. Furthermore, this isn’t anything new. Canada did exactly the same thing after CoP 15. So stating that “It’s unprecedented” is also wrong.

Furthermore, CITES does not “block” trade. The purpose of CITES is to regulate trade and ensure that wildlife is utilized sustainably. Most of the changes to the listings made at CoP 16 were to list species on CITES Appendix II—which allows international commercial trade as long as the exporting country determines in advance that the trade is sustainable and legal; and that the proper documents (e.g. Export Permits) are in place. One can easily argue that when CITES is properly implemented, it is preferable to utilize listed species rather than unlisted species which may well be harvested and traded at unsustainable levels.

The article goes on to state that Canada has previously managed to produce regulations well within a 90-day grace period allowed under the treaty and includes the following quote:

As far as I’m aware, this has never been a problem for Canada…”

Perhaps the reporter should have talked to someone that was a bit better informed. Canada has only met the 90 day deadline twice since WAPPRIITA came into effect in 1998: after CoP 11 (2000) and after Cop 13 (2004). I discussed this issue in my report CITES eh? back in 2004.  [You can download a pdf copy directly here.] Canada missed the deadline by more than a year after 2014 and the authorities were rightly criticized for being in violation of Canadian law. And that is why, after CoP 15, Canada took out reservations on all of the changes to the CITES listing until WAPTR was amended.

Of course, a better way to address the problem would be to streamline the process such that the 90 day deadline could be readily met. The fact that Canada did indeed meet the deadline in 2000 and 2004 shows that it can be done. But rather than make that point, the article wraps up by trying to make a link to efforts by the USA to up-list the polar bear on CITES Appendix I. The article closes with the following paragraphs:

Canada has been fighting a rearguard action at CITES over polar bears. It has been working to stop the organization from further restricting trade in polar bear parts.

Support for Canada’s position, however, has been declining.

In 2010, CITES considered banning all trade in polar bear parts and the European Union voted in a single bloc with Canada against it. In 2013, after major European countries including the United Kingdom and Germany said they opposed Canada’s polar bear hunt, the EU simply sat on its hands.”

This really has nothing to do with the subject of the story and is another misrepresentation of the facts.

The USA did indeed propose up-listing the polar bear to CITES Appendix I at both CoP 15 (2010) and Cop 16 (2013). And in both cases the proposal was rejected by the Parties (member countries). So the suggestion that support for Canada’s position has been declining seems like a bit of a misstatement.

Secondly, in 2013 the EU (which votes as a block) offered a counter proposal to keep the polar bear on Appendix II but with set export quotas; and no less than nine Decisions for actions to be taken by the CITES Secretariat, the polar bear range States, the Animals Committee and the 178 Parties (there are now 180). I would hardly call that the EU sitting on its hands!

The EU’s proposal was rejected, and the EU not surprisingly abstained on the US proposal to up-list polar bears to Appendix I. This is all documented in Summary record of the sixth session of Committee I.

These sort of articles are so frustrating. If the author had bothered to get his or her facts straight, and had maybe talked to more people who actually know and understand CITES, then the story could have been a valid criticism of Canada’s policy to take short term reservations on all CITES listings. But by salting the story with errors, half-truths, and innuendo the article seems to be designed more towards building outrage over a relatively minor issue than educating the Canadian public or influencing actual change to Canadian policy. Frankly, I expect better from the CBC.

I need to go take an aspirin…

Ernie Cooper
December 11, 2014