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Concerns prompt public hearings on captive lion breeding industry

SOUTH Africa’s captive lion breeding industry comes under the spotlight in Parliament this week.

Titled “Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country”, the two day hearing, open to the public, has been organised by the portfolio committee on environmental affairs. It starts on Tuesday and will give key stakeholders an opportunity to present arguments.

This will include Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) experts, the Professional Hunters’ Association of SA, the South African Predators’ Association, the World Wild Fund for Nature South Africa, the Born Free Foundation, the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation, SANParks, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) , Brand South Africa and the EMR Foundation, a welfare organisation focused on children, elderly persons and wild animals.

Committee chairperson Mohlopi Mapulane said he hoped the presentations and associated panel discussions would facilitate constructive engagement around an issue adversely affecting South Africa’s standing internationally.

“We cannot allow (captive lion breeding) to blemish our internationally acclaimed wildlife and conservation record,” said Mapulane. He said the committee wanted “to better understand the different views that exist” before deciding on whether to review or amend legislation.

The hearing comes amid concern over the possible impact of captive lion breeding on South Africa’s wild lion populations, and the DEA’s decision, on 16 July this year, to increase the lion skeleton export quota from 800 to 1500.

Lion bones are mostly sold to Asian markets to make “lion bone cake”. According to the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, lion bones fetch mil lions of dollars and the industry is growing despite the fact that there is no medicinal value in them.

Dr Kelly Marnewick, a senior officer in EWT’s Wildlife in Trade Programme, also reckons that the poaching of wild lions for body parts has escalated in recent years. “We cannot rule out a link to the market created for lion bones from captive breeding institutions,” said Marnewick.

Ian Michler, a leading member of the Blood Lions campaign which exposes the link between canned lion hunts and “walking with lions” and “cub petting” enterprises, is among a growing number of wildlife activists calling for an outright ban on all non conservation breeding of predators.

“We have been here before,” said Michler. “A previous minister attempted to end the twin horrors of predator breeding and canned hunting, but failed through carelessness. “One can only hope that 13 years on, and after a significant growth in these industries, Parliament is truly beginning to understand the damage the predator breeding industry and all its related exploitative activities are doing to South Africa’s conservation and ecotourism sectors,” he said. “If this event is a failure, expect the opposition to gather momentum.”

Michler’s sentiments are shared by the director of Humane Society International Africa, Audrey Delsink. “The DEA has ignored the world’s leading lion and conservation experts who categorically state that captive breeding has no conservation benefit; even the hunting fraternity has shunned the practice,” said Delsink.

She said it was outrageous that South Africa had doubled the quota to 1500 skeletons, when demand reduction was being encouraged globally.

“The DEA can no longer justify an industry that only benefits the pockets of breeders and traders and seriously damages South Africa’s ecotourism sec tor” said Delsink.