Cape Town – Despite a global move to end the trade in lion bones and parts – for both captive and wild lions – South Africa remains thick-skinned to outlawing the inhumane captive lion industry and these animals’ exploitation and suffering.
Now, a decision to allow export of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons from South Africa is coming under fire from Humane Society International (HSI) and the producer of the film Blood Lions.
On Thursday, 19 January, the South African National Biodiversity Institute, which is the Scientific Authority to the Department of Environmental Affairs, announced its recommendation to institute an annual export quota of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons, traded in large part for use in traditional medicine to southeast Asian countries like Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand.
In response to this, the HSI and Blood Lions slammed the DEA saying, “The decision to make this recommendation was made prior to public consultation and without the appropriate scientific basis required under South Africa’s obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora”.
According to the most recent CITES CoP17 declaration, bones and parts from wild lions are not allowed to be traded for commercial purposes. For captive lions, it remains a free-for-all.
The distinguishing between wild and captive lions in the CITES CoP17 declaration leaves a loophole, as it is impossible to tell the difference between wild or captive bred lion bones, and lions.
Nonetheless, the DEA has now opened a two-week comment period – ending on 2 February 2017 – to collect input on the recommended quota for exportation of the 800 skeletons.
It’s a contrasting move considering that only one day before, the DEA embarked on a biodiversity compliance awareness drive with muti traders and traditional healers, in a bid to curb the trade in endangered animal parts.
Still, lions, and many other species, are being traded legally and illegally in SA.
The Humane Society International and Blood Lions therefore pleaded with the DEA to establish a zero export quota for the lions, “thereby suspending trade in captive-bred lion parts given the absence of scientific evidence that such trade is not detrimental to the survival of wild lions, as required for export under CITES,” they say.
“The captive breeding of lions for the purpose of killing them to supply the bone trade is ethically unacceptable and seriously harms South Africa’s global image”.
At the recent CITES CoP17 held in Johannesburg in October last year, it was said that African lions are critically endangered, with an estimated 20 000 lions left in the wild.
Nine African nations, namely Niger, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria and Togo wanted to raise protection for lions by uplisting them to Appendix I, the maximum level of protection.
The move was intended to end the lion bone trade.
South Africa, unfortunately, did not add their weight to this decision but opted rather stick to the current Appendix II listed which distinguishes between captive and wild lions – even though it is impossible to tell the difference between captive or wild lion bones and parts.
No good end to SA’s notorious captive lion industry
The DEA’s recommendation to export the 800 lion skeletons comes at a time when South Africa’s notorious lion breeding industry – that includes cub petting, lion walks, canned lion hunting – is under spotlight.
According to Blood Lions, the South African government will permit lion skeletons to be sourced from the natural deaths of captive-bred lions, from lions which have been euthanised, as well as remains of lions trophy hunted by South African and international hunters.
It’s has been a dilemma for lion breeders for some time. While the controversy over whether lion hunting and breeding continue, lion farmers are struggling to feed and/or sell the animals and the animals are the sole victims of a botched, inhumane practice to start with.
Considering this, euthanasia of the remaining lions in captivity may seem like a viable option… But the fact remains: When the bones are sold, and there is financial value in keeping captive lions, killing them and exporting their remains, the practice will continue.
Audrey Delsink, executive director of the Africa office for Humane Society International, sums up the DEA’s feeble attempt at ending lion trade when he says, “The Department of Environmental Affair’s decision to support the trade in lion parts is misguided and shameful. Breeding captive lions is not only cruel and goes against the global shift against captive wildlife, but South Africa’s captive-bred lion bone trade is a potential threat to wild lions.
“Conservation efforts must focus on protecting lions in the wild, and not prop up facilities where they are bred for slaughter and canned hunting.
“Unless research proves otherwise, caution must prevail and trade in these parts must be completely suspended given South Africa’s commitments under international law.”
Pippa Hankinson, producer of Blood Lions, agrees. She says, “Blood Lions is deeply concerned by this announcement from the South African government. The quota appears to lack the requisite scientific basis, and there has been no apparent consideration of proper welfare or conservation protocols. South Africa has shown complete disregard for the overwhelming response by key global conservation leaders calling for the ‘termination of captive lion breeding for commercial, non-conservation purposes and the hunting of captive-bred lions (Panthera leo) and other predators’ at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September last year.
“In addition, this shocking industry is already adversely affecting Brand South Africa. We urge the public to call for a suspension of trade in captive lions and their bones, and to bring an end to the captive lion breeding and canned hunting industry.”
The South African government estimates are that there are approximately 6 000 captive African lions in South Africa, bred for various economic purposes. However, other experts reveal the number is likely closer to 8 000.
The 2015 film Blood Lions exposed the true nature of the lion breeding industry in South Africa, revealing poor living conditions, false pretences under which breeders contract volunteers to care for the animals, misleading information provided to tourists about the conservation benefit of lion breeding, and lack of appropriate regulation.