A new scientific report, The Economics of Captive Predator Breeding in South Africa is about to be released.

And one of its principle findings is that South Africa’s brand attractiveness could lose over R54 billion in the next decade to negative publicity from the predator breeding industry and all the related commercial operations using lions and other species. This and the other consequential findings listed below add to the already substantial body of evidence stacked against these notorious industries.

Authored by Ross Harvey from the South African Institute of International Affairs (http://www.saiia.org.za/), the lengthy report comprises two sections. The first is a formal academic review of the scientific and ‘grey’ literature, some of which is being used by those involved in attempts to justify their activities, and the second part deals with the conservation and economic claims being made, including the most recent lion bone quota of 1 500 carcasses awarded by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

According to Harvey, “perhaps the most surprising finding was the sheer extent to which the skeleton quota numbers for the last two years (from 800 to 1 500) appear to have no grounding in science. Also startling is how little reliable economic analysis has been conducted on this clandestine industry.”

The cruelty and brutality that comes with the industrial-scale farming of lions in South Africa has been well-documented by Blood Lions and others, as has the callous killing of the animals by unethical hunters. In the past, these twin horrors have been the ugly face of this industry, but as Harvey’s report indicates, the burgeoning lion bone trade as well as the cub petting and ‘voluntourism’ sectors have over the last decade become just as insidious.

Some of the principle findings in the report include:

  • The opportunity costs and negative externalities associated with these industries may “undermine South Africa’s brand attractiveness as a tourism destination by up to R54.51 billion over the next decade.”
  • Excluding the canned hunting sector, the predator breeding industry and its other related activities may generate over R1.0 billion of revenue per annum. This translates to less than 1% of the total tourism economy.
  • Based on the current literature and data available, the conservation and economic claims of the entire industry “do not correspond to reality.”
  • The conservation claims have no validity, but if the industry is going to make any claims of economic benefit, further analysis and data collection is needed. Current data is based on small sample sizes dependent on interview responses.
  • Volunteers on predator facilities are taking work away from local full-time job-seekers.
  • While the market for canned hunts has fallen, this has not resulted in any noticeable increase in demand for wild lion trophies.
  • The lion bone quota should be removed as there is insufficient scientific basis for awarding it. In addition, legal quotas create supply-side signals of legitimacy that promote parallel illegal markets as well as poaching for illegal stock to be laundered through ‘legal’ markets.
  • The price of lion bones is on the increase; heading over R50 000 for a carcass, and that this trade may well be replacing canned/captive hunting as the breeders primary revenue source.
  • The connection between captive lion breeding and organised crime has been well documented.

Of particular interest to the government, particularly the Department of Labour and the revenue authorities will be Harvey’s findings on the much-touted job creation claims made by some predator facilities and the so-called sanctuaries. Rather than creating jobs, they make use of a seemingly endless stream of volunteers that is ‘crowding out’ at least 84 full-time jobs that would otherwise be available to local work-seekers.

The volunteer exchange is the most incongruous of contracts as those offering their labour for free are also asked to pay substantial sums before setting foot on a facility. In essence, the volunteers pay twice; their cash in Dollars or Euro’s that provide substantial revenue streams for the operators, and then they must get to work.

It’s inconceivable that anyone would offer both their cash and labour to scrub lion cages, mend fences and feed animals amongst many other chores. But as Harvey points out, this happens because of the misleading or false conservation claims used to lure them.

Unsuspecting volunteers from around the world are prepared to make these sacrifices thinking they are making a contribution to securing the future of wild lions. And there is also a little honey involved; the chance to cuddle and bottle-feed recently born cubs.

The shameful deceit and cruelty aside, the messages can also undermine the legitimate efforts of predator scientists and conservationists, and this is reason enough for the authorities to act.

As many others have pointed out, this report also highlights the economic contributions of these industries as being relatively small. However, it is the first to quantify the significant potential losses to Brand South Africa. Next week, Parliament holds a colloquium that will be delving into these exact aspects.