Cape Town, South Africa – In a move clearly supporting the canned lion hunting industry, the South African Government plans to permit the annual export of 800 lion skeletons to manufacturers of fake tiger wine. This lifeline to an increasingly discredited hunting practice follows a U.S. ban on the import of hunting trophies from the country.
The move has come under fire from a wide array of local and international environmental organisations and follows an ongoing controversy about South Africa’s lion breeding industry that promotes cub petting, lion walks, canned lion hunting and the supply of lion body parts.
“The decision is misguided and shameful,” said Audrey Delsink, Africa’s director of Humane Society International. “Breeding captive lions is not only cruel and contrary to the global shift against captive wildlife, but is a potential threat to wild lions.”
According to Pippa Hankinson, the producer of the film Blood Lions, the quota appears to lack the requisite scientific basis and was arrived at without consideration of proper welfare or conservation protocols. There was no formal document to support how the quota of 800 skeletons was arrived at or how it would be enforced.
“South Africa [is showing]complete disregard for the overwhelming response by key global conservation leaders calling for the termination of captive lion breeding. In addition, this shocking industry is already adversely affecting Brand South Africa.”
‘Two-week window for public comment, ending on February 2’
In 2015 the Professional Hunters’ Association of South African (PHASA) passed a motion dissociating itself from the captive-bred lion industry “until such a time that the industry can convince PHASA and the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] that the practice is beneficial to lion conservation.”
Last year the IUCN adopted a motion to terminate the hunting of captive-bred lions and other predators and captive breeding for commercial, non-conservation purpose.
The Department of Environmental Affairs made the 800-skeletion decision without public consultation but was forced to hold a stakeholder meeting this week as a result of CITES quota conditions. This was clearly planned as a once-off meeting, but delegates managed to get the department to open a two-week window for public comment, ending on February 2.
The DEA also agreed to appoint a research group to monitor the exports.
There are between 6,000 and 8,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa, more than twice the number of wild lions. An estimated 1,200 lion skeletons a year are presently being exported, so 800 would mean a reduction, but represents tacit support for captive lion breeding.
Legislative black hole
Captive-bred lions are something of a legislative black hole. The government’s 2015 Biodiversity Management Plan mentions captive-bred only in passing, saying “there is intense controversy over the merits and ethics of the captive breeding and subsequent release for hunting of captive bred lions, although it remains legal to do so.” A CITES report notes that trade is fine “if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.”
In dealing merely with the impact of captive-bred lions on wild breeding stock, these reports ignore ethical issues and relegate lions to domestic farming stock.
There are also questions about whether the quota could be policed. According to Michelle Pickover of the EMS Foundation, there should be a moratorium on issuing any wildlife export permits because of the country’s extremely poor legislative and enforcement issues.
“At the meeting it was clear that DEA does not know how the industry operates, who the breeders, bone traders etc are, how many lions are in the industry and how many ‘facilities’ there are.”
‘No transparency, worsened by massive corruption’
“They leave this totally up to the industry itself,” says Pickover. “So it’s in essence secret and self-policed. There is also no transparency and this situation is worsened by massive corruption.
“They are wanting to do research as part of the quota decision. This is nonsensical – research needs to be done in order to establish the landscape and to ascertain if a quota is actually viable or not.
“Their position is clearly that because there is already a trade it should continue. This is illogical. If they themselves are motivating for the need for research, then this suggests they do not have enough information.”
According to Kelly Marnewick of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, because the U.S. no longer allows the importation of captive trophies, there has been a shift to bone trade. “They are reporting a decrease of 320 lion hunts and a loss of 660 jobs and are supporting an offtake of 1600 animals a year.
“DEA’s support for the lion bone trade is obvious. They do not seem to be concerned that they will grow demand. In fact they said that demand was based on thousands of years of [Asian] culture and there was nothing we could do about it. This position is astonishing, particularly given all the international and inter-governmental efforts to reduce demand.
“This does lead one to question whose agenda it is in our government to grow and support this unscrupulous and corrupt industry. And who is benefitting?”
Featured image: lion skulls on display at the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania. Credit Kevin Harber, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0