A nail in the coffin of the captive lion breeding industry?

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Louise de Waal

There was an overwhelming consensus for the need to bring an end to the controversial captive lion breeding industry in South Africa at a two-day Parliamentary Colloquium of the Portfolio Committee of Environmental Affairs.

However, in an article in this morning’s Cape Times “SA’s lion conservation policies rooted in science” is a carefully scripted piece by Minister Molewa trying to justify an industry the majority of attendants at the colloquium agree has passed its sell-by date.

Mr MP Mapulane (chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs) summed up the sentiment around the room by saying “South Africa is allowing a practice that everybody is turning their backs to, we need to find a solution as a country to improve the situation”.

The consensus is that the captive lion breeding industry has little to no conservation value, raises serious animal welfare issues, and doing serious damage to Brand SA. As Dr Ali Kaka (CIC Ambassador for Africa) says “the bad publicity has to be noted” and “South Africa’s conservation success rightly or wrongly will be questioned and smeared”.

This was confirmed in a new report by South African Institute of International Affairs claiming South Africa’s tourism brand value could potentially be negatively affected by as much as R54 billion loss in revenue over the next decade, if the lion breeding industry is allowed to continue.

Questions were raised around the increase of the lion bone quota from 800 in 2017 to 1500 for 2018, which the Minister claims is also based on science. However, on closer inspection, an interim report of a three-year-long research project was used to underpin the new quota.

Furthermore, it appeared that the economic principle of supply and demand was a key aspect in the decision-making process, as our lion breeders can produce more skeletons than the initial set quota and have skeleton stockpiles.

Smaragda Louw (Ban Animal Trading) pointed out the irregularities in for example the lion bones quota and the number of CITES permits issued, the latter exceeding the actual quota.

Pippa Hankinson (Blood Lions) says “after attending the Parliamentary debate today, it is blatantly clear that the lack of regulations, enforcement and governance around the predator breeding industry and lion bone trade quota in South Africa are hugely problematic”.

Dr Mark Jones (Born Free Foundation) pointed to the fact that the captive lion breeding industry is associated with wildlife trafficking and directly linked to the increasing demand for and trade in donkey meat and skins, as well as rhino horn and derivatives.

“Although the CITES trade database doesn’t yet contain export data for lion skeletons for 2016, airway bills suggest more than 1,700 skeletons may have been exported, including 153 skeletons from Gauteng Province to a company called Vinasakhone Trading in Laos. The company has been closely associated with wildlife trafficking and other illegal activities, and has close links with the notorious Bach brothers, who have been operating wildlife trafficking activities across parts of SE Asia for years”, Jones states.

South Africa’s lion breeding industry has been the subject of substantial international criticism, including government Ministers in Namibia, Botswana, and within South Africa, national and international NGOs and scientists, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but most significantly from within the trophy hunting sector itself.

Professional Hunters Association South Africa (PHASA) and South African Predator Association (SAPA) are among the few professional hunting associations, who consistently remain on the side of DEA in support of the captive lion breeding industry and canned hunting.

Many of the organisations present are heartened by the outcome of this first day. Audrey Delsink (HIS Africa) says “we are encouraged by the first robust inquiry into the captive lion breeding industry facilitated by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee, who now have the baton and have given their commitment to run with it”.

For more, visit Conservation Action Trust.

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