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Lion industry under review

SOUTH Africa’s unregulated captive lion breeding industry will soon be reviewed by the portfolio committee on environmental affairs in a two day hearing open to the public.

According to the committee chairperson, Mohlopi Mapulane, the aim of the event is to facilitate a constructive debate around the future of captive lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

A colloquium titled, “Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country”, will take place on August 21 and 22, giving stakeholders from across the board an opportunity to present arguments for and against the captive breeding of lions.

“There is an outcry, and we must find a way to address it as soon as possible,” Mapulane said. “What is worrying is how this issue is affecting South Africa’s standing internationally. We cannot allow captive lion breeding to blemish our internationally acclaimed wildlife and conservation record.”

A report published by UK based Born Free Foundation in March backs up Mapulane’s fears over South Africa’s waning reputation as an international wildlife and conservation pioneer, illustrating how the captive breeding of lions for hunting and their bones has detracted from South Africa’s conservation status.

Mapulane said the committee would “put a spotlight on the captive breeding practice, to better understand the different views that exist”.

Following the discussions, the committee would decide whether to review and or amend legislation, or whether they would have to initiate new legislation through Parliament.

He said that the portfolio committee had specifically asked for the recent EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading report, “The Extinction Business South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade”, to be presented at the colloquium.

“Some people will argue that it has been compiled by researchers who are against sustainable use. But for us, as parliamentarians, it is important to get that information so we can make up our minds about this practice.”

The report examines and investigates substantial problems and loopholes in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora permitting, enforcement and oversight system, and demonstrates the failings of South Africa’s national policies and procedures. There have been pleas to formulate policies and better regulate the industry for years, but to no avail.

No national consensus can be found on the number of captive bred lions in the country at the moment. Experts conservatively estimate around 8 000, but considering the unnaturally high breeding rate to produce more cubs, for petting, it is likely that the figure is closer to 12 000 today, and possibly as high as 14 000.

On July 16, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced an increase in the lion skeleton export quota from 800 to 1 500 skeletons, citing a growing stockpile of lion bones, an increase in poaching of captive bred lions for body parts, as well as in creased pressure on breeders due to the US’s restrictions on importing captive bred trophies.

Conservationists warn that exporting lion bones from captive bred animals may be an even bigger driver for captive lion breeding in the country.

According to Ian Michler, a consultant and campaign co leader for Blood Lions: “It is possible that canned hunting will become a by product of the bone industry”.

The department’s decision to almost double the annual lion bone export quota baffled conservation authorities, who argue that there is not even enough scientific data to back an export of 800 skeletons, let alone 1 500.

There are also increasing concerns over the possible impact of captive lion breeding on South Africa’s wild lion populations. This is according to Dr Kelly Marnewick, the senior trade officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife in Trade Programme, who says “the poaching of wild lions for body parts has escalated in recent years, and we cannot rule out a link to the market created for lion bones from captive breeding institutions”.