In a move aimed at improving South Africa’s wild lion conservation, and the country’s tarnished ecotourism reputation, the Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs will take action against the breeding, hunting and trade of captive lions.
On 2 May the department’s Minister Barbara Creecy released the report of a high-level panel that was appointed to review policies, regulatory measures, practices and policy positions that are related to hunting, trade, captive keeping, management and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.
In her announcement she said the panel identified that “the captive lion breeding industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism, which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry, and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade”.
The panel recommended that South Africa does not breed lions in captivity, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially. “I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation in implementation is conducted,” said Minister Creecy. This will include action against the sale of captive lion derivatives (such as lion bones destined for the Asian market); the hunting of captive bred lions; tourist interactions with captive lions (including, so-called voluntourism and cub petting) (p. 329 HLP report).
Dr Louise de Waal who represents the conservation organisation Blood Lions which has long campaigned against the captive lion industry said they are extremely happy with the Minister’s decision to bring an end to the commercial captive lion breeding industry.
“The only effective way to safeguard both people and animals throughout this industry is to conduct a phased shift away from commercial captive predator breeding operations”, de Waal said. “These steps will not only ensure improved welfare conditions for captive lions and other big cats, health and safety of the public at large, but also the protection of wild lions and the safeguarding of Brand South Africa from reputational damage, as the Minister acknowledged in her statement this morning.”
Blood Lions together with World Animal Protection and many other stakeholders in the animal welfare and conservation sectors made a wealth of compelling science-based evidence available to the panel in written and oral submissions in 2020.
Currently, 8,000-12,000 lions and thousands of other big cats, including tigers and cheetahs, are bred and kept in captivity in more than 350 facilities in mostly the Free State, North West, Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces. These predators have been bred for commercial purposes, including interactive tourism, “canned” hunting, lion bone trade and live exports.
In terms of the management of other species, it appears the report is less conclusive. The panel made recommendations as to how partnering with private owners of rhino can lead to strong conservation outcomes for the species, while enhancing potential benefit streams. “We have accepted that the country adopt the recommended positions on ivory and rhino horn trade, such that we will not be making proposals to CITES for further trade in these derivatives until certain conditions have been met. On the rhino these are based on the Commission of Enquiry’s report Option 3 as approved by Cabinet and the Rhino Action Plan and the development of a global consensus for legal international trade in rhino in the interest of rhino conservation,” Creecy said. “For elephants, although we hold a relatively small portion of the population, South Africa wants to play a key role to bring African consensus on ivory trade in the interest of ivory trade on elephant.”
In adopting the report’s recommendations, Minister Creecy said the key outcomes for the country will include:
- The development of a shared vision for the sector;
- Improved policy and legislative coherence, which will provide certainty and a stable base for growth and development;
- Better balancing our economic, social, cultural and natural heritage needs, including re-imagining the role of protected areas, both state and others, in contributing to ecologically sustainable rural development;
- Placing communities living with wildlife at the centre of our thinking so we focus on enhancing human-wildlife co-existence, and transformative approaches to access and benefit sharing for communities living on the edges of protected areas;
- A renewed focus on transforming the ownership and management of the commercial wildlife economy particularly in the eco-toursim and authentic hunting sectors;
- The ending of certain inhumane and irresponsible practices that greatly harm the reputation of South Africa and the position of South Africa as a leader in conservation; and finally,
- Contributing to ensuring Africa’s coherence and unity in relation to conservation; unstainable use and management of these species.