South Africa’s 2019 Lion Bone Export Quota a ‘Big Middle Finger to Conservation’


Written by Louzel Lombard Steyn

South Africa’s Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) is determined to set yet another export quota for lion bones. This flies in the face of several ongoing processes aimed at curbing the controversial industry, including litigation launched by the NSPCA (National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) challenging the quota.

At a recent DEFF stakeholder meeting, purportedly to discuss the 2019 quota, Chairperson Khorommbi Matibe made it clear from the outset that the meeting was not to discuss ethics or welfare within the industry. “It’s not about whether there should be a quota; it’s just about how many can be exported,” he stated.

This objective directly contradicts a parliamentary motion stating that the DEFF should “as a matter of urgency initiate a policy and legislative review of captive lion breeding for hunting and lion bone trade, with a view of putting an end to this practice.”

It also disregards a Constitutional Court ruling, which held that animal welfare and conservation are intertwined concepts, in that the protection of animal welfare is a part of the environmental right in section 24 of the South African Constitution.

According to Linda Park, director of Voice4lions, the DEFF has already made up their minds, and “they’re giving a big middle finger to conservation and anyone who opposes the industry.” The meeting was just an “unnecessary, whitewashing exercise,” she says.

South Africa’s captive lion industry harms the animals it breeds and kills for profit, and the wild lions who are killed due to ongoing demand for lion bodies and products. Image credit Terry & Brenda Martin, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Ongoing processes ignored

The NSPCA lodged an application last year in the South Gauteng High Court to prohibit the DEFF from authorizing the of the export of lion bones and challenge the lion bone export quota.

DEFF communications manager Albi Modise confirmed litigation was still ongoing. However, he did not comment when questioned why the department had moved to determine the 2019 quota while litigation was still underway. The matter is due in court at the end of June.

Meanwhile, “DEFF have ignored all outcomes and recommendations from a recent colloquium on the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa,” including the parliamentary motion aimed at ending the trade. This is according to the Coalition to Stop the Breeding and Keeping of Lions and other Big Cats for Commercial Purposes, who say they are “deeply concerned” with DEFF’s intentions to continue establishing quotas.

According to the coalition coordinator Dr. Louise de Waal, “the Precautionary Principle has to apply here, so we should not be exporting lion bones, especially under a quota that is not based on science, but simply on historical exports.” She called it ironic and inconsistent that the DEFF now insists on scientific, peer-reviewed data when the “initial quotas were based purely on an average of the preceding years of uncontrolled and unregulated exports with no science involved.”

The DEFF’s insistence to determine the quota also ignores an ongoing process to establish a High-Level Panel (HLP) to “advise the Minister on issues pertaining to policies, legislation and practices in management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling” of iconic species, including lion.

Announcing plans for the HLP in December last year, then-Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Nomvula Mokonyane reduced the highly controversial 2018 lion bone export quota from 1500 to 800 skeletons, saying that the department needed “to reflect on effectiveness of the implementation of the quota, enhance compliance and monitoring systems, and allow the HLP panel to incorporate these issues into their work.”

However, says Ian Michler of Blood Lions, the DEFF shows continuous disregard for ongoing processes. “The DEFF has already made up its mind. These meetings and processes are merely a sop to the public and those who oppose the lion bone trade,” he says.

Tiger bone wine for sale in China. This is the product that much of South Africa’s exported lion bone goes into. Image credit Envinronmental Investigation Agency, CC BY-SA 4.0.

‘Public’ participation sham

DEFF also opened a public participation process (PPP), asking for “members of the public to submit concise written scientific information or data for consideration by the Scientific Authority” before June 15th this year.

According to the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), however, the requirements exclude the greater South African public. “We feel that it is essentially a scientific review and not a PPP, according to South African policy and procedure,” says Karen Trendler, NSPCA wildlife trade and trafficking manager. “Whilst they will be accepting public comment, only scientific, peer-reviewed research will actually be considered in determining the quota.”

Audrey Delsink, director of the Humane Society International/Africa agrees, saying “Scientific, peer-reviewed research is largely outside of the scope of the general public or interested and affected parties, which immediately excludes them from the criteria as established by DEFF.”

Featured image: lion cubs at a private game reserve in South Africa. Image credit Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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