Written by Cath Jakins
Published on 28 October, 2019

Humans have been domesticating and farming animals for decades, millennia even.

However, people all around the world are becoming so much more aware of the ethical and welfare-related issues involved in captive breeding and animal husbandry. Recently, there has been “a move globally to say ‘ok, intensive farming may not be the way to go, people want free range animals’. And yet, on the wildlife side, we are reverting back to intensive breeding under the worst conditions,” says Karen Trendler, Wildlife Trade & Trafficking Portfolio Director at the NSPCA. According to Trendler, “conservation of wildlife is best done by preserving wild animals in their natural habitat.”

In South Africa, the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) was passed in 1998 to allow for the “utilisation of genetically superior animals to improve the production and performance of animals in the interest of the country”. In short, the AIA is an agricultural policy that governs livestock breeding and has (until recently) pertained to traditionally ‘farmed animals’ such as cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs and other domesticated animals:

On 17 May 2019, an Amendment to the Animal Improvement Act, 62 of 1998, was issued by the then Department Of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In this amendment, lion, cheetah, rhino and giraffe have been added to the list of ‘farmable animals’, along with almost 30 other wild animal species.

But what does this mean, and why is it important?

Earlier this year, the NSPCA revealed horrific footage from a captive breeding facility in the North West Province where hundreds of lions and other animals were being kept in various stages of disease and neglect.
It is highly likely that those lions were being kept in captivity for the lion bone trade to South-East Asia, which supplements the tiger bone trade for traditional medicine. Due to the fact that these lions are being bred merely for their bones, their welfare falls by the wayside.

Multiple animals were confiscated for treatment, but many had to be euthanased due to the severity of their suffering.

By adding wild species to the AIA, is the South African Government now promoting intensive, captive breeding of these animals for commercial purposes? For species such as lion and rhino, it would seem that this Amendment will play right into the hands of unscrupulous wildlife breeders, many of whom are involved in the controversial breeding of lion for the bone trade, and rhino for the horn trade. According to Dr Ross Harvey, the inclusion of these animals in the AIA is worrying as the Act does not govern how they should be slaughtered, or what kinds of health considerations need to be observed.

Domesticated animals such as cattle and horses were selected based on specific characteristics and their full domestication took place over many hundreds of years. Predators and other wild species, on the other hand, are not and have never been domesticated successfully as they retain certain inherent wild characteristics that make them a danger to humans.

“The ongoing domestication of our wildlife is very concerning. It has no conservation benefit and in many cases, is damaging to our biodiversity,” says Dr Kelly Marnewick, a lecturer in the Department of Nature Conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology.

So what about the legal side of things?

There does seem to be some confusion as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), which legislates mostly on wild species and for biodiversity objectives, issued a statement in July 2019 declaring that the AIA Amendment “does not replace or supersede the provisions of conservation legislation” and that “animals listed under the AIA are still subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA) and provincial conservation legislation”.

This statement makes it sound as though all is well, and that the threatened species included in the AIA Amendment will be protected against exploitation. Under NEMBA, the Threatened or Protected Species (ToPS) Regulations requires that permits be issued for any “restricted activity” in relation to any listed threatened or protected species, which include rhino and lion. However, it appears the AIA Amendment conflicts with both NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations. According to NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations, “importing, exporting, possessing [and] breeding” of listed threatened species are considered to be restricted activities (NEMBA, 2004).

According to Don Pinnock of The Daily Maverick, NEMBA “has no provision for the welfare of individual animals” and “deals mainly with licencing of commercial use of listed or threatened species”. When the Department of Agriculture was contacted for comment about the Amendment, they advised that due to “changing farming systems in South Africa, game animals are included as these are already part of farm animal production systems in the country”. They also stated that no public participation process was needed for an amendment to an Act and that the change followed a request from ‘the industry’ in 2017.

Where to from here?

The Departments of Environment and Agriculture will be engaged to determine a way forward. Blood Lions and our partner organisations will be following these developments very closely.

If you would like to find out more, email info@bloodlions.org or follow our social media pages for updates.