Guest Host: Frank Sesno

A lion relaxes on the banks of the Luvuvhu river at the Pafuri game reserve on July 21, 2010 in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

A lion relaxes on the banks of the Luvuvhu river at the Pafuri game reserve on July 21, 2010 in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

The trophy killing of Cecil the Lion last year by an American dentist in Zimbabwe brought new attention to the plight of African lions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave legal protection to African lions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and several airlines have since banned shipments of trophies of lions and other big game. Yet many conservationists and big cat experts says the real threat to lions is habitat loss and communities who retaliate—and understandably so—against these big cats who kill their livestock. Guest host Frank Sesno and a panel of guests look at new efforts to save lions.


  • Jeffrey Flocken North American regional director, International Fund for Animal Welfare
  • Luke Dollar Conservation scientist; director, National Geographic Society's Big Cats Initiative
  • Daniel Ashe Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Patrick Bergin CEO, African Wildlife Foundation; member, Federal Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking

Watch: A Future For Big Cats

The National Geographic Society’s Big Cats Initiative supports scientists and conservationists working to save big cats in the wild.

Save A Lion, Build A Boma

In many areas of Kenya and Tanzania, lions are killed by people to save their livestock from becoming prey. National Geographic launched a “Build a Boma” campaign to help communities build and maintain livestock enclosures called “bomas” in Kenya and Tanzania.

Photos Of Lions In Botswana


  • 11:06:54

    MR. FRANK SESNOThanks for joining us. I'm Frank Sesno of the school media and public affairs at the George Washington University sitting in for Diane Rehm. Lions are dying off rapidly across Africa. Over the last two decades, the number of lions has dropped by more than 40 percent to as few as 30 or maybe 20,000 individual lions. With me in the studio to talk about what's happening to African lions and new efforts to save them, Luke Dollar with the National Geographic Society, Jeffrey Flocken with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Dan Ashe with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • 11:07:27

    MR. FRANK SESNOJoining us by phone from Nairobi, Kenya, is Patrick Bergin. He's with the African Wildlife Foundation. Welcome to you all.

  • 11:07:35

    MR. LUKE DOLLARThank you.

  • 11:07:35


  • 11:07:35

    MR. DANIEL ASHEThank you.

  • 11:07:35

    SESNOLuke, why don't you start us off with a little bit of a sense of the census here because as I understand it, thousands of years ago there were more than a million lions roaming our planet and now that number is very diminished.

  • 11:07:50

    DOLLARCertainly, Frank. In less than a century ago, we had more than 400, 450,000 lions remaining in Africa.

  • 11:07:59

    SESNOJust in Africa.

  • 11:08:00

    DOLLARJust in Africa. Lions, a millennia ago, ranged throughout Southern Asia into Southern Europe. Now, you just mentioned that over the last two decades, we've lost more than 40 percent of the world's lions. The numbers that we have now, 30,000, perhaps as low as 20,000, are more than 90 percent what they were in under a century ago.

  • 11:08:24

    SESNOWhat we've lost.

  • 11:08:25


  • 11:08:27

    SESNOPatrick, you're joining us from Africa. Tell us about where these remaining animals are concentrated.

  • 11:08:35

    MR. PATRICK BERGINWell, thanks. In fact, I've just come back yesterday from the field and being with lions in a conservancy in Northern Kenya. It's really Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, they're the great strongholds of the African lion, the Savanna areas. Some in the west, as well. We've looked across the continent and identified 15 landscapes that are responsible for really the lion share, if I may say, of the remaining lions.

  • 11:09:01

    SESNOAnd so where you just were, what were you seeing and how many lions were you eyeing as you were out there?

  • 11:09:09

    BERGINWell, you know, it's very interesting. There are estimates that the country of Tanzania, just to the south of us, may have as many as half of the remaining alliance in the world. And so what we're seeing is when there are very large intact conservation landscapes and a very solid prey base, you can have large populations of lion, perhaps as many as 5,000 in a single landscape and you get large prides as well. The area that I was in earlier this week is a part of Africa and the Rift Valley that's increasingly fragmented.

  • 11:09:41

    BERGINAnd so you're seeing smaller numbers of lion living in small prides and you're seeing lots of potential for conflict, lions coming up against roads and development, lions coming up against electric fences and coming into regular conflict with human beings.

  • 11:09:56

    SESNOLuke, of course, the world was riveted and completely captivated by this Cecil lion kill last year. But what are the main threats to lions. Is hunting the main threat or are there others?

  • 11:10:10

    DOLLARHunting is actually not the main threat to lions. The reason we lose lions most is retaliatory killing by pastoralists, usually for lost livestock.

  • 11:10:19


  • 11:10:20

    DOLLARRetaliatory killing, someone loses their cattle, their sheep, their goats to lions or other predators. They want to retaliate. The thing to remember is that in Africa, where these great predators roam wild, the people's livelihoods are wrapped up in their livestock. And so these predators that we see as majestic and iconic animals are viewed as problems for many of these people and it's an understandable response. But the vast majority of lions are lost when someone retaliates. They want to kill what is threatening or has taken their livestock.

  • 11:10:54

    DOLLARThey often do this with poisoning so it's not only lions that get killed, but it's everything that may visit that carcass. The, probably, second leading cause of lion loss is actually by catch due to poaching for bush meat, usually for these smaller prey items that people are sending to market. So between retaliatory killing and by catch from poaching, snaring, those are the two major leading causes of loss. And so the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative has been funding people in the field.

  • 11:11:25

    DOLLARRight now, we've given out 93 grants in 27 countries for field-based conservation interventions to try to mitigate those problems, get ahead of the conflict loss by helping people better protect their livestock through bomas or crawls that are fortified so that they don’t lose their livestock. The predators can't get in. So the accident that occurs, the crisis that occurs in the light of a loss can be avoided before it ever happens.

  • 11:11:50

    ASHEAnd the important -- one thing -- important thing to remember about this is, and for listeners to realize, is that this is the same thing that we did here in the United States. I mean, so when you think about great predators here in the United States, whether they're bears or wolves of mountain lion, we did the same thing. We persecuted them because they were a barrier as the United States population and economy expanded to the west.

  • 11:12:14

    SESNOThis is where, Dan Ashe, this is where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has come in and even with reintroduction of wolves and other things, this is one of the complaints and one of the things you've had to address, right?

  • 11:12:22

    ASHEYes, and we...

  • 11:12:23

    SESNOSo you're saying this can be a model for Africa?

  • 11:12:25

    ASHEIt can be a model. I think the notion of conservation that engages communities and builds incentives in communities so that they put value on these rather than seeing them as a competitor.

  • 11:12:35

    SESNOJeff Flocken, what about habitat loss? How significant is that?

  • 11:12:39

    FLOCKENVery significant. The growth of human populations in Africa, like throughout the world, is increasing and continuing to move in that direction where there's less and less free land left for wildlife, like lions. And particularly with lions, which as Dr. Dollar mentioned, are a predator that comes into conflict with people when they abut one another. There has to be ways to work with communities and to work with people on the ground who have to live besides these predators in order to find the solution for the long term to save these animals and keep the communities healthy and thriving as well.

  • 11:13:10

    SESNOJeff, would you recap for us the Cecil lion story? What happened there? And we'll talk a little bit about the impact of that.

  • 11:13:17

    FLOCKENAbsolutely. The Cecil the lion story, it was a watershed moment, really. Possibly the largest wildlife conservation and animal welfare story in history.

  • 11:13:27


  • 11:13:28

    FLOCKENHonestly, that's the perspective that most people are taking, having looked at it. During the height of the coverage, which lasted almost an entire month, they're reporting that there were 99,000 reports per day globally, between social media and traditional editorial reports, covering this issue. I actually was called upon to be a spokesperson on this issue and was down at the CNN studios probably 10, 15 times during that period, to say nothing of great stations like NPR and other places who wanted -- had listeners who wanted to hear what was going on and how this happened.

  • 11:14:03

    FLOCKENThe incident, as most people know, happened about a year ago, July 2, 2015, and an American hunter killed a well-researched and studied lion in Zimbabwe on a trophy hunt. It received worldwide attention and the fact that it received such a high profile for this incident was a little surprising to myself and people who work in this field since you could say that easily there are 600 other lions killed every year for sport. But there was a confluence of different events in the situation that perhaps caused it to reach that pinnacle of attention.

  • 11:14:38

    SESNOAnd Cecil, as I understand it, Cecil wore a GPS collar and he was being monitored by researchers, but was lured out of the wildlife park?

  • 11:14:45

    FLOCKENThere's been a difference of opinion on whether he was actually lured out of the park. There was -- baiting was involved in this. The organization that was studying it, a wild crew out of Oxford University did say -- come out later and say that that was part of its wider habitat range so it, perhaps, could've been there on its own. Now, Dr. Dollar might have something to add to that.

  • 11:15:03

    DOLLARThe interesting thing about the Cecil story is that heavily monitored lions, ones that have collars on them, things that happened, like what happened to Cecil, happened dozens of times per year. This one had a story that took off.

  • 11:15:19

    SESNOAnd still resonates.

  • 11:15:21


  • 11:15:21

    SESNOOne of the issues, too, that I think came to -- the public understood that or as a result of this, is trophy hunting that kills the head of a lion pride is not just killing that animal, but causing disruption and fatal disruption often. Can you talk about that?

  • 11:15:39

    DOLLARIndeed, indeed. So what happens in lions' social dynamics is you'll have a pride that's lead by this large alpha male. He's watching the territory that that pride is occupying. He's defending not only his space, but the space that his genetic lineage, his cubs are also occupying. When that lion is removed and a new lion moves into the same territory, it's a bit of a "Game of Thrones" because what happens is that the genetic offspring -- the offspring of the previous lion remain a threat to that new individual and so he's going to be incentivized to engage in what's called infanticide and wants to kill the cubs.

  • 11:16:17

    DOLLARNot only does it eliminate the other guy's genetic lineage, it brings the lionesses that are there into estrus earlier. He's able to then breed with them sooner.

  • 11:16:26

    SESNOPatrick, let me come back to you and the perspective from where you are in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Africa. What impact did this killing of Cecil have? What's it changed, if anything, on the ground?

  • 11:16:39

    BERGINWell, I agree with Jeffrey, certainly, about the, you know, of course, the reproductive biology of lions and the impact. There are couple different reactions we saw here on the ground in Africa. A lot of African people, frankly, were puzzled about the, you know, the phenomenal amount of attention given to this one issue when, as we hear, many other animals and many human lives are lost. But another issues that I think is really important is that, for example, the Selous landscape in Southern Tanzania may be the single largest lion population on the continent.

  • 11:17:10

    BERGINA whole large section of that reserve was degazetted for uranium mining recently with very little public outcry. So one animal can be poached or a whole park could be poached or a whole part of a park can be poached. And so I think the loss of Cecil is actually a chance for a larger continental dialogue and global dialogue on how wildlife and wild lands fit into the future of the modern society that is emerging in Africa.

  • 11:17:38

    SESNOIs there interest in having that dialogue, Patrick, where you are?

  • 11:17:43

    BERGINWell, you know, that's a great question, Frank, and I think there is. And our organization, African Wildlife Foundation, is determined to make it part of the current dialogue in Africa. Just in the last couple days, for example, the African Union Head of State Summit that is held annually was hosted in Kigali in Ruanda. The president of our organization, Kaddu Sebunya, who is from Uganda and the vice chairman of our board who's the retired president of Tanzania, President Mkapa, were there at the Head of State Summit specifically to engage...

  • 11:18:12

    SESNOStarting that conversation. We'll -- let me come back to you in just a moment.

  • 11:18:15


  • 11:18:16

    SESNOComing up, more of our conversation on saving lions in Africa.

  • 11:20:02

    SESNOWelcome back. I'm Frank Sesno, sitting in for Diane Rehm today. Our topic, saving African lions. Our panel, Jeff Flocken from the North American regional -- from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Luke Dollar, National Geographic Society, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and joining us by phone from Nairobi, Kenya, Patrick Bergin, he's the CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation.

  • 11:20:22

    SESNOWe'll be taking your calls and comments and questions throughout the hour. So call us at 800-433-8850. Send your email at, or join us on Facebook or Twitter. Patrick Bergin, back to you. You were in the process of laying out this sense, from what I gather, of an emerging dialogue or a willingness to have an emerging dialogue in Africa on this topic.

  • 11:20:47

    BERGINYeah, absolutely. Let me start by saying that when our organization looks at the continent of Africa and what's happening, we see a short-term threat and a medium-term threat. The short-term threat is the current poaching and trafficking crisis that we're all so aware of that's affecting, you know, rhinos and elephants and so many other species. But really the bigger threat that we see is that Africa is in a period of unprecedented transformation, economic transformation.

  • 11:21:13

    BERGINAs we've heard, the fastest-growing human population in the world, a massive investment in new infrastructure, the spread of agriculture, technology, engagement by China and other important players, and in the rush for economic growth and modernization, there's the very real danger that the wonderful wildlife resources of this continent are going to get thrown under the bus.

  • 11:21:32

    BERGINAnd so we need a discussion, and, you know, I come from a Peace Corps background and have now been in Africa for almost 30 years, but we think this discussion has to be led by Africans. There has to be real ownership by the African leadership itself. So we're really beginning to pivot and to invest a lot of our bandwidth and our effort in having these discussions at the highest level, with heads of state, ministers of planning, the development banks because those are the people writing the future of the continent.

  • 11:21:59

    SESNOLuke Dollar, you've spent a lot of time in Africa, and you've seen a lot of change there. This development that Patrick is talking about goes right up against the habitat loss that we were talking about earlier and other things.

  • 11:22:10

    DOLLARAbsolutely, it's a great threat. One of the things that's driving this bush-meat trade, which is one of the -- snaring is one of the highest causes of lion mortality, as well as bycatch, is the fact that we have burgeoning economies in metropolitan areas in Africa who want to have this status symbol of bush meat for their meals, and that's actually driving some of the local areas.

  • 11:22:33

    SESNODan Ashe, let me ask you this. We're talking certainly about what's happening in Africa, but nothing happens in a vacuum, and in December as I understand it, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added African lions to the endangered species list. Why now, and what's the impact of that?

  • 11:22:47

    ASHESo they -- why now? Because we were petitioned by organizations like the International Fund for Animal Welfare and others, and so it's our responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to consider the status. And so we looked at the status lion. Clearly, as we've heard here today, they're not only declining substantially, but they're faced with very challenging threats looking down the road.

  • 11:23:12

    ASHESo you see a future for lion which is grim, and I think what we -- we're having a conversation about trophy hunting, and Cecil the Lion, which is one individual lion and certainly a tragedy in many respects, but what listeners and people need to realize is we need to be concerned not about one lion at a time. We need to be concerned about what's happening to lions throughout their range. And to build an effective strategy, it has to be a community-based strategy as we're doing here in the United States with grizzly bear. We are working with landowners and ranchers to help them learn how to live successfully and work successfully around a competing species.

  • 11:24:00

    SESNOWhat is the practical impact of your putting lions, African lions, on the endangered species list?

  • 11:24:05

    DOLLARSo the U.S. is a big consumer and market for wildlife product internationally, perhaps the largest consumer and market in the world. And what the Endangered Species Act does for us, when we list a species like lion, is it requires the regulation of trade, import and export of trophies, of live animals, of animal parts. And so now that have listed lion, we have the authority to regulate those activities.

  • 11:24:37

    SESNOJeff, is it -- your organization recently reported that some 11,000 lion trophies were traded worldwide from 2004 to 2013. Can this population, can this hunt be managed without endangering the population?

  • 11:24:51

    FLOCKENI think the question that we're grappling with is should it be managed by trophy hunting, is that an appropriate -- what people call a conservation tool in this modern day and age. With the incident of Cecil, I think most people who heard the story understand the complexities of habitat loss and competing needs of resources between humans and wildlife, as well as the conflict that happened. But what really shocked the people that we talked to is why are we allowing this animal that is imperiled and declining to be killed for sport by wealthy foreign hunters, when at the same time we're asking local people who have to live besides them on the land and telling them that they can't poach them for that -- it's not allowed, that they can't convert the land for property, but at the same time a very wealthy American can come and kill them for fun.

  • 11:25:37

    FLOCKENSo when it's looked in that context, we have to decide, is this really an appropriate tool in this modern day and age for saving the species. Working with communities is vital, getting in there and finding out what can be done to help save them. But we know other opportunities like ecotourism, non-lethal tourism brings in much more revenue to Africa, and that's not going to be a magic bullet. It's going to be one of the solution that's needed, but in this modern day and age, killing animals for sport, particularly imperiled ones like lions, is not the right answer, either.

  • 11:26:07

    SESNOLuke Dollar?

  • 11:26:09

    DOLLARSo lions are ranging across about three-and-a-half million square kilometers of space. A million of that is national parks and protected area. A million square kilometers of that is also game management areas...

  • 11:26:18

    SESNOWhat -- give us some context. What kind of space does that represent?

  • 11:26:23

    DOLLARSo 3.5, 3.4 million square kilometers is about the size of the Southeast U.S. and Texas combined.

  • 11:26:27

    SESNOA lot of space.

  • 11:26:27

    DOLLARIt's a lot of space, but when you think of Africa as being almost four times the size of the continental U.S., it's a very small portion of what it used to be. Lions range in less than 20 percent of their historic range. But a million square kilometers, about a third of that, is wrapped up in game management areas for hunting. If we want to see an end to trophy hunting, we're going to have to more than double down on our conservation efforts because in the absence of that particular incentive for space, these billion Africans, who are pastoralists, are going to want to see that land converted for their own grazing, et cetera.

  • 11:27:03

    DOLLARAnd so the need is greater than ever to increase the amount of field-based conservation efforts that we're investing in.

  • 11:27:09

    SESNODan Ashe?

  • 11:27:09

    ASHEYeah, I would say, you know, I understand, and, you know, Jeff an I probably disagree on this point, and I understand that many people feel the -- you know, the sport hunting of an animal may be abhorrent and particularly a lion. But I would say as a practical matter, the idea that -- we manage that way here in the United States.

  • 11:27:34

    SESNOWe manage hunting.

  • 11:27:34

    ASHEWe manage hunting, and so we have vibrant and growing population of black bear in Maryland, in my home state of Maryland, in New Jersey, in Virginia. And we manage them carefully with trophy hunting. We have growing population of mountain lion and grizzly bear and wolf, and we have growing and, you know, record-level populations of things like elk and antelope, and we -- and we hunt them, and we manage those professionally and scientifically and responsibly.

  • 11:28:07

    ASHEAnd that provides an incentive to the local communities. They tolerate these...

  • 11:28:11

    SESNOSo you are saying you can have hunting and conservation of an endangered species side by side?

  • 11:28:17

    ASHEYou clearly can. The added challenges in Africa are the challenges associated with corruption in government and the lack of reliable regulatory mechanisms. So we have to solve those problems. But you absolutely can.

  • 11:28:31

    DOLLARIt's very important that we make sure that we understand that this is not a parallel issue. The social and economic and infrastructural issues facing Africa, the population issues facing lions, are not the same as black bears. These are complex problems, but to imagine that these things could be exactly parallel is a little precarious.

  • 11:28:53

    SESNOSo Dan, what is your response to that, not parallel?

  • 11:28:55

    ASHEI would say it's complicated here in the United States. I don't know a single issue with regard to predator management here in the United States that's not complicated. And I would say in terms of game management, one of the issues with the bush-meat trade that Luke mentioned before is not just the incidental take of lions associated with bush meat, but it's removing the prey base that lions are dependent upon.

  • 11:29:18

    ASHEWhen you have game management areas that are set up to sustain those population, not just the lion itself but the prey for that lion, it does contribute to conservation.

  • 11:29:27

    SESNOPatrick Bergin, let me bring you in, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation. You're in Africa. What's your response to this?

  • 11:29:33

    BERGINYeah, thanks. So I want to kind of strike a position in between a couple of the speakers. So, you know, I respect IFAW's position, I think, if I'm representing it correctly, ideologically against hunting. There is another strong school of thought for sort of sustainable use. Here's our position. We're not fundamentally against sport hunting, but we do have real concerns, and we've actually called, in June 2014, for a moratorium on the hunting of lion, elephant and rhino, and here's why.

  • 11:30:01

    BERGINAs we've just heard over the last 100 years, wildlife numbers are going down and down and down, what I like to call the continental herd of elephant, down and down and down, the continental pride of lion, and it's important for the African nations themselves to articulate a vision, what is possible in terms of a stable population of lion into the future. Where are going to be the large landscapes that are set aside for conservation, where conservation is given priority?

  • 11:30:30

    BERGINWe need to put a number on this and manage to it. And then I think we can talk about, you know, potentially reopening sport hunting as managing to a specific goal.

  • 11:30:39

    SESNOJeff Flocken?

  • 11:30:41

    FLOCKENWe also have to keep in mind this isn't just an economic discussion. This is also a moral discussion. The value of our society globally, as well as here in the U.S., have changed, and blood sport for imperiled species is no longer accepted. A 2014 poll of Americans found that overwhelming, 77 percent strongly opposed killing lions for sport. One right before that show that 90 percent support a ban on trophy hunting even if it's not the number one cause of the decline of lions.

  • 11:31:09

    SESNODan Ashe?

  • 11:31:11

    ASHEI would agree with that in general, but again, I would say, you know, wildlife management and conservation is an endeavor that requires great energy and pragmatism. I think people are very tolerant of these species, but think about what happens when a black bear shows up in Bethesda, Maryland. People go crazy. And so -- and black bears are really -- represent very little harm, very little potential for harm. Lions, on the contrary, do attack people.

  • 11:31:39

    ASHEAnd so you're talking about people, a growing population of people, that have to live with an animal that's very difficult to live around. If you don't give them incentives to tolerate those animals, then they will kill them. They'll persecute them.

  • 11:31:55

    SESNOLuke Dollar?

  • 11:31:56

    DOLLARAnd coexistence at the local level is key. The problems and the solutions facing lion conservation all begin and end at the most local of levels, where people and lions have to coexist. Big Cats Initiative grantees with the Zambia Carnivore Program, I just got back from South Luangwa National Park in Zambia last week, published a paper last month that said -- Zambia's had a hunting ban on big cats for the past three years, it's being lifted this year. Populations have exploded, back to near-previous levels before the hunting during that period.

  • 11:32:27

    SESNOLion population.

  • 11:32:27

    DOLLARLion population. But this paper looked at the sustainability of lion trophy hunting in the landscape there, and it said at very heavily managed, very small numbers, trophy hunting could be sustainable if the offtakes as a result of retaliatory killing and snaring bycatch are controlled. But that's not realistic.

  • 11:32:48

    ASHEThat's the importance of the Endangered Species Act listing because all of a sudden it gives us leverage because most of those trophies come into the United States. So we can begin to help set the terms under which they come into the United States, and we can begin to leverage the rangewide action that we've been talking about.

  • 11:33:06

    SESNOJeff Flocken, you've been trying to get into this conversation for a couple of minutes. Go ahead.

  • 11:33:08

    FLOCKENI just want to agree with the things that were being said in that we do need long-term solutions to this problem, not just short-term ones. Trophy hunting is going to disappear, either because the species is going away, and they can no longer be hunted and found, or because the current values around the globe say that trophy hunting and killing imperiled species for sport is not accepting -- acceptable.

  • 11:33:30

    FLOCKENSo with that in mind we have to be thinking what can do with communities to bring in other sources of revenue and other ways to work with them.

  • 11:33:35

    SESNOI'm Frank Sesno, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. If you'd like to join us, please do. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Send an email to Find us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Dan Ashe, let me come back to you before I go to the phones. Jeff just said trophy hunting is going away. Do you agree with that?

  • 11:34:00

    ASHEI think there is definitely pressure internationally on trophy hunting. We definitely see that. I think trophy hunting will have a different future than we've seen in the past. But I do believe here in the United States that again, we've proven the value of that as a management technique and as a way for communities to have a sense of control and build tolerance for these animals. So I believe it will continue.

  • 11:34:27

    SESNOPatrick Bergin?

  • 11:34:28

    BERGINWell, I think trophy hunting is shrinking. There are fewer and fewer countries doing it, and there are fewer countries doing it well. I remember in my years in Tanzania a story of an American hunter coming in with a license to shoot a lion, shot the lion, later in the week found a bigger lion and bribed to have the first lion buried so that he could shoot a second lion under that same permit.

  • 11:34:48

    BERGINSo the places where we see hunting done responsibly, unfortunately they're getting fewer and fewer. But if we have time I'd love to talk a little bit about the community benefit side of the equation because I think that is essential. We can't solve this only by looking at lion. That's why we've set up the African Wildlife Capital Fund to invest in businesses at the interface between wildlife conservation in communities and also a conservation schools program to strengthen primary education in schools around national parks and wildlife areas.

  • 11:35:16

    SESNOSo you're trying to do what through those activities?

  • 11:35:18

    BERGINYou know, one of the things I like to say is let's put a dollar inside the park and then a dollar outside the park. Let's invest in a sustainable way in stabilizing these systems where conservation has done well in large conservation landscapes and where people have acceptable standards of living and human services in the areas that have been set aside for human growth and settlement.

  • 11:35:37

    SESNOOkay, I want to go to the phones now, and please join us if you're so inclined at 1-800-433-8850. Jeannette is on the phone from Mount Airy, North Carolina. Hi Jeannette.

  • 11:35:46

    JEANNETTEHi, Frank, thank you for taking my call.

  • 11:35:49

    SESNOThanks so much for calling, and go ahead with your question.

  • 11:35:53

    JEANNETTEOkay, my father, Colonel Pretorius, started -- he was a founder of a very large nature preserve in South Africa called Timbavati. Timbavati was where the white lions were found many years ago. So he spent his life trying to get farmers together to make this large preserve, to preserve the wildlife. But the largest problem we had was with hunters.

  • 11:36:18

    JEANNETTEWhen the white lions were found, Americans would come and bribe the local population to lure the lions outside of the perimeter fence, and when they came through -- they would lure them with meat, and when they came through, they would shoot them. And so in the end what, you know, the hunter has, he has a skin on the floor with a head on it that he trips over on every day.

  • 11:36:41

    JEANNETTEAnd if we don't change this attitude of the public towards these fantastic animals, which starts in the schools with children, et cetera, we will never get a handle on it.

  • 11:36:53

    SESNOThank you, Jeannette, thank you very much. Luke Dollar, your response?

  • 11:36:55

    DOLLARThe Big Cats Initiative that National Geographic has founded is set up on assessment we can't accurately protect that which we don't know, protection, which drives this grants program that's provided funding at the interface level between lions and big cats worldwide. The investments that we make both in community education, conflict mitigation and education are critical to alleviating these problems that we're facing in short-term use of killing animals.

  • 11:37:23

    SESNOWe have to change attitudes along the line here.

  • 11:37:24

    DOLLARWe do.

  • 11:37:25

    SESNOA lot of work. All right, coming up, more of your calls and questions for our panel on the subject of how to save African lions and other major species. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 11:40:01

    SESNOWelcome back. I'm Frank Sesno sitting in for Diane Rehm today. And this hour we are talking about African lions and he efforts to preserve an endangered species. Our panel, Jeffrey Flocken, he's with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Luke Dollar, National Geographic Society, Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and joining us by phone from Nairobi, Kenya, Patrick Bergin, CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation.

  • 11:40:23

    SESNOWe have some calls and we'd like to encourage you to join us at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at A caller from Maryland, Davidson (sic), Maryland, Walter. Hi, Walter.

  • 11:40:36

    WALTERHi, Frank.

  • 11:40:37

    SESNOThanks so much for calling.

  • 11:40:37

    WALTERI have a -- you're welcome. I'm a partial owner of a pretty large private game reserve in southern -- southeastern Botswana, just across the border from northern South Africa. And we have sort of a unique situation with the private reserves. There are a large number of them, particularly in South Africa, some in Namibia and a few in Botswana. And the problem we have is that oftentimes we're surrounded by cattle farms, etcetera and lions in our reserves breed very rapidly.

  • 11:41:20

    WALTERAnd it quickly becomes too many numbers for the size of the reserves. And then you have the problem of what to do with the excess lions. And since every reserve has the same problem, there are literally hundreds, probably thousands of lions every year that it's difficult to place anywhere. We try to find reserves that need lions. We try to find places to release them, but it's a very big problem. And I don't know what the solution is, but I'd be interested in hearing your panel.

  • 11:41:56

    SESNOWell, I think, Luke Dollar, you're probably the first person I would go to then. 'Cause you know a little bit about…

  • 11:42:00

    DOLLARA couple of great, yeah, a couple of great points here. You know, you've illustrated very well. If we can stop killing these lions, they can rebound. There is conservation hope for lions in wild Africa.

  • 11:42:14

    SESNOBut in other words, what Walter is pointing out is happening in these private reserves.

  • 11:42:16

    DOLLARYeah, what is his problem in his comparatively small area that's not set up to hold a large population of lions is definitely true. If we stop killing them and we stop those pressures, they can rebound. There is hope for lions in Africa. One of the issues, though, is if you're in a small reserve of a limited population size, limited range size, why are we breeding? Why are we breeding these animals? If in the wild they're having their own problems, we can't necessarily take some from one place and throw them into a natural ecosystem.

  • 11:42:47

    DOLLARThat would be interference at best. Why are we doing that if we're having the problems in the field and if you've got lions in a small area, don't breed them.

  • 11:42:58

    SESNOWalter or, Patrick, is Walter's point rationale for properly managed hunting in these reserves or around them?

  • 11:43:10

    BERGINYou know, to me, Frank, what it's really rationale for -- and I know this might sound like a pat answer, but African wildlife is large. Or at least we have the very large species like elephant, like rhino, like lion. This is not a resource that can be managed in a small way. If you manage it in a small way it's called a zoo. And so what we advocate for with African governments and with the African Development Bank and the Pan-African Parliament is it's better to even have fewer parks or fewer landscapes, but they need to be large.

  • 11:43:39

    BERGINAnd then the populations need to be managed together as a meta-population, as we say. So, you know, the first caller spoke about Timbavati. You've got Kruger National Park. You've got the Sabi Sands Private Reserve, the Timbavati Reserve with the fences dropped. Private reserves are welcome, but they are best managed as part of a large landscape with a combined population. And that really is, I think, the only solution to this issue.

  • 11:44:05

    FLOCKENThis is Jeff. I would definitely agree with what Patrick just said. It's gonna be about connecting these large landscapes. Allowing for genetic flow between them, for populations to grow, interchange and continue to prosper. We need to think on the big picture in a large scale of how do we save these species across Africa.

  • 11:44:23


  • 11:44:23

    DOLLARWe've done a great job in addressing the short-term problems, getting our fingers in the dam. The Big Cats Initiative has 50 grantees throughout Africa, with more than 1,100 field conservationists that are working with these projects that are attacking these short-term lion loss problems. We're in the process now of continuing to expand that, but also transition to what we're saying here is a very important perspective. If we're going to have long-term ecological viability for the species across Africa, we do have to look at this, not only the local, but a landscape-wide scale.

  • 11:44:55

    SESNOLuke, you're a conservation scientist and we know you from your work with National Geographic. I want to ask you a very provocative question, which is a very relevant question, which comes from Paul, in Orange Park, Fla. And his question is as follows, "Why is protecting African lions more important than establishing food sources for starving African people by drilling wells, providing farming tools so people can sustain themselves? "What is so important about lions?" he asks. "If all the African lions became extinct, what terrible consequences would occur?" he asks.

  • 11:45:23

    DOLLARI'm very glad Paul asked that question. Because it reminds us of the humanity in conservation as well. Lions are a critical part of an ecosystem that also supports human survival. And their loss can have a cascade of effects that impact not only the prey species that they may be eating for their regular meat sources, but also the economic sources of the finances that run a region.

  • 11:45:47

    FLOCKENAnd I would throw in that it's not an either or situation. You can care about people and animals. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is working on the ground in southern eastern Africa. We're working with anti-poaching units, establishing new ways to gather intelligence through our 10 boma systems. But we're also building schools and helping to bring health communities together.

  • 11:46:06

    SESNOAnd, Patrick, doesn't this get to the heart of what you were talking about, too, with the communities and incentivizing many of these activities?

  • 11:46:16

    BERGINIt certainly does. And let me just tell a story and give just one example. You remember a couple of years ago the World Cup soccer match was held in Johannesburg for the first time. And this is a great example. People from all over the world came to Johannesburg. And where did they go? They went out to Kruger National Park to spend time, to spend money, to invest in the local economy. They went to Victoria Falls. They went to Botswana.

  • 11:46:38

    BERGINSo we really want to be -- and this is what my organization, African Wildlife Foundation, is trying to do, to become advocates for a future of Africa that includes space for wildlife and wild lands. We've identified sort of 37 priority mega landscapes around the continent. And we're saying, look, if we get prioritized, these places for conservation, you know, frankly it's a way for Africa to diversify holdings.

  • 11:47:03

    BERGINDiversification is a sound economic principle. At the same time, I think it is essential that we in the conservation community not be seen as only caring about animals. We have to show that we care about the big picture. We take a balanced perspective. And, as I say…

  • 11:47:21

    SESNORight, it can sound very elitist if you do not.

  • 11:47:23

    BERGINAbsolutely. And just one other point, I think it's really, really important to make. We have another new initiative where we are reaching out to young, urban, sophisticated Africans. You know, this continent and the way people think of it, it's changing so quickly. Africa is urbanizing. More people are moving into the cities. People are on social media constantly. This next generation of young up and coming Africans, many of them very sophisticated and very well educated, they will make the decisions about the future of this continent.

  • 11:47:53

    SESNOLet me turn over to…

  • 11:47:54


  • 11:47:55

    SESNOLet me turn to Dan Ashe for a moment and ask the question that's related to all of this. Tell us about canned hunting and what it means and how it relates to this discussion.

  • 11:48:04

    ASHEWell, and thank you for asking that question because, again, I'm a defender of the utility of hunting as a management technique. But it's important not to defend the indefensible. A number of people have raised issues about individual cases where people are simply following unethical and abhorrent practices. And…

  • 11:48:22

    SESNOWhat is it? Can you define it?

  • 11:48:23

    ASHEAnd canned hunting is basically the term that people use to apply where lions are bred specifically to be hunted. And they're hunted in a confined, fenced situation. And so you lose all of the elements of ethical hunting, which is, you know, fair chase. And so I think -- and what we have seen, in recent years especially, is most of the trophies coming into the United States are coming from South Africa and they're coming from canned hunting.

  • 11:48:57

    SESNOMost of them.

  • 11:48:58

    ASHENot -- most of them. And what -- and it's also important to point out, again, you asked about the impact of our listing determination. No trophies have been allowed to come into the United States since we listed lion as threatened and endangered. And we -- it is likely that we will allow trophy imports to come into the country, but again, it gives us the ability to set the standard by which that comes -- those lions come in. And make sure that any hunting of lions is supporting conservation of lions in the wild.

  • 11:49:35


  • 11:49:35

    FLOCKENAnd I would just say, I want to underscore how important that decision to list lions under the Endangered Species Act has been. About 600 lions are killed for trophies every year. And about 430 of those are coming to the United States. This is a tremendously popular decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service. They had an unprecedented 370,000 comments came in in support of it. We had people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Guns 'n Roses guitarist Slash, and Dr. Jane Goodall all saying how important this decision is and supporting it.

  • 11:50:00

    SESNOAll right. To Jennifer, who's calling in from Portland, Ore. Hi, Jennifer.

  • 11:50:04

    JENNIFERHi. Hi, there.

  • 11:50:04

    SESNOThanks for waiting. Go ahead with your question.

  • 11:50:07

    JENNIFERYeah, so my question is by putting the lions on the endangered animals species act you're saying you can track the trophies that come into the United States, but I worked for a cardiologist who -- when he would kill animals, like a polar bear or things like that, that weren't allowed to be brought into the United States, he would just leave them in Canada. So are you really getting accurate -- an accurate count of what's being hunted if they don't just bring their trophy home?

  • 11:50:34

    SESNOGreat question. Let me put Dan Ashe on the spot with that one.

  • 11:50:36

    ASHESo we can't control what happens in those other countries. We can't dictate to another country what they do. All we can do is regulate the activities of Americans who are trying to bring things back into the United States. And so that's an important leverage point for us. And, but we can't, in the case of a polar bear, prevent someone from going to Canada and hunting lawfully in Canada.

  • 11:50:58

    SESNOLeo joins us from Ivoryton, Conn. Hi, Leo.

  • 11:51:01

    LEOHey, how are you?

  • 11:51:02

    SESNOThanks for being so patient waiting. Glad to have you on the show.

  • 11:51:05

    LEOThank you.

  • 11:51:07

    SESNOGo ahead with your question.

  • 11:51:08

    LEOWell, my question is, is there something that kind of -- that -- I guess it was the CEO of AWF said something about a dollar in and a dollar out. What I'm doing here in Ivoryton, which was home to 90 percent of the manufacturing of ivory at the turn of the century, is trying to get the people that are in the gray area or people in local communities to be more involved. Is there some mechanism that you guys have to make ancillary bad things be more aware to smaller communities?

  • 11:51:47

    SESNOTo smaller communities. Jeff, you want to take a shot at that?

  • 11:51:51

    FLOCKENAbsolutely. IFAH and other groups, like AWF and WWF and WCS are on the ground in Africa working -- having local people in our offices there, working together, trying to make a difference with communities, offering ecotourism, a non-lethal means of bring in revenue to Africa.

  • 11:52:11

    DOLLARThe Big Cats Initiative has grantees who are almost all very field-based and field-oriented in the places where big cats and humans are in a coexistence crisis. Now, to bring that to the local level here in the States, educations is critically important. The Big Cats Initiative has a sister school program which pairs schools in the U.S. with host country schools in lion-range areas. Which brings this next generation of people up under a different mindset, that's oriented more towards preserving and appreciating these animals, as opposed to eliminating the pests.

  • 11:52:44

    SESNOI'm Frank Sesno. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Luke Dollar, tell us a little bit about the National Geographic's so-called Build a Boma campaign.

  • 11:52:53

    DOLLARSure. The Build a Boma campaign came from the Big Cats Initiatives' efforts to find the people who were in the field with the solutions, mainly they're scientists and explorers, but -- and they knew what needed to be done, but didn't necessarily have the funds to support that on the things that were most effective and cost effective at lion conservation.

  • 11:53:12

    DOLLARVery early on in the course of the Big Cats Initiative grants program it became apparent that fortifying the bomas, these corrals, in southern Africa they're called kraals, where people keep their livestock, was remarkably effective. 99.9 percent effective in avoiding livestock loss. The reason it's not 100 percent is because sometimes the people leave the doors open.

  • 11:53:31

    SESNODon't do that.

  • 11:53:34

    DOLLARIn the first year that this was implemented in…

  • 11:53:35

    SESNOI'll donate springs to the doors.

  • 11:53:37

    DOLLARThank you. I appreciate that. In the first year this was implemented in parts of Tanzania, we saw a reduction in retaliatory killing rates of two-thirds. The numbers that we have right now, it costs about $500 to build a fortified boma. Each boma prevents retaliatory killing at the rate of about .2 lions per year. So every five bomas is preventing one lion from dying as a result of retaliatory killing per year. How much does it cost to save a lion? $2,500.

  • 11:54:00

    SESNOWow, well interesting program. Patrick, I want to come back to you with a tweet from Mike that relates to a question we heard earlier. Mike asks, "If lions didn't exist, would it be true that all their prey would overrun and predators would overpopulate?" In other words, what is the ecological role that having these lions out there plays?

  • 11:54:23

    BERGINYou know, what we believe is that ecological systems are very, very complex. And the relationship between predators are complex. In fact, the way AWF approaches this, we talk about large carnivores as a gild. And in the landscapes that we're looking at with lion, they tend to have leopard, they tend to have cheetah, a lot of the have African hunting dog, hyenas, jackals and many other carnivores.

  • 11:54:44

    BERGINSo for example, when lion numbers go down, another predator may then increase because they have more prey available. So these systems are very, very complex. But just to sort of reiterate the point, our view is large landscapes managed as naturally as possible are the healthiest for society. And as we talk to Africans and to governments on what's going on here, remember as well that, for example, Africa is a continent that's supposed to be most affected by climate change.

  • 11:55:11


  • 11:55:12

    BERGINAfrica needs resilient landscapes for water catchment, climate change mitigation…

  • 11:55:17

    SESNOI'm glad you raise…

  • 11:55:17

    BERGIN…support to the agricultural economy and all these other functions for society. It's not just about tourism.

  • 11:55:22

    SESNOI'm glad you made that point, too, because there's comment posted on our website from Rusty who says, "I also don't -- just don't see how the lions survive the water shortages over the next 100 years." Anybody want to comment on that?

  • 11:55:37

    GUESTThese shortages, these problems are going to be substantial. Nature, intact ecosystems have managed to survive.

  • 11:55:47

    SESNOWe have just a couple of minutes left. I'd like to ask each of you, very, very quickly if you would, if you've got one suggestion to someone who's listening, whether it's a child or a citizen or anybody else, and they want to either be more informed or be more engaged to help contribute to this conversation, what can they do? What can someone do? Patrick, you want to start us off briefly?

  • 11:56:06

    BERGINSure, I'd love to. We're very interested in the social media movement and the ability for worldwide partnerships. So people around the world, you know, friends of the United States -- my nephews and nieces -- engage with your young African peers and encourage them to take an interest in conservation. And so we can all value this together.

  • 11:56:23

    SESNOJeff Flocken?

  • 11:56:25

    BERGINThat would be my suggestion.

  • 11:56:26

    FLOCKENI would say become informed. There's gonna be a global vote in CITES, which is the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, in Johannesburg in September, which will determine whether lions get protection from commercial and international trade. I'd also just throw out that we're talking a lot about the value of animals and ecosystem. I'd like to just throw out there that it's their -- is intrinsic value to lions and other biodiversity units. It's not just about they bring out to the community and the society, but also that they belong as part of that ecosystem.

  • 11:56:55

    SESNODan Ashe?

  • 11:56:55

    ASHEI'm gonna take the bigger view and say that I think people should put this into context. Because -- and realize that the United States is part of a global citizenry. And I think if we're gonna sustain these species then we need to support tolerance and understanding of what African countries are dealing with.

  • 11:57:16

    SESNOLuke Dollar, you get the last word.

  • 11:57:17

    DOLLARStay informed, tell your friends, keep funding, keep helping those of us who are trying to do things in the field underway., are great places you can go to learn more information.

  • 11:57:32

    SESNOOkay. To Luke Dollar, Dan Ashe, Patrick Bergin and Jeff Flocken, thank you all very much for a fascinating conversation on behalf of African lions. I'm Frank Sesno. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

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