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Wildlife experts spurn invite to serve on environmental panel, indicating bias and co-option

This is an excerpt from an article written by Don Pinnock and published online by Daily Maverick on 15 July, 2020

Three people have declined to serve on a government panel. That’s not exactly news. But, given who they are and the panel on to which they were invited, their refusal has exposed major fault lines in South Africa’s treatment of wild animals.

The high-level panel was set up by the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy to review the policies, legislation and management regarding the breeding, hunting, trade and general handling of elephants, lions, rhinos and leopards. It was appointed in 2019 and has to report to Creecy by November 2020. Members were required to sign a confidentiality undertaking – it’s deliberations are secret.

Shortly after the panel was formed, fault lines began to appear, soon to open into an almost unbridgeable canyon of dislike and distrust. The first shots were from conservationists claiming that the panel was hopelessly biased in its composition. 

There are some traditional leaders on the panel, a few biltong farmers, several scientists and (initially) one animal welfare specialist. But most members are either hunters, game farmers and advocates of international wildlife trade. There are no vets, epidemiologists, climate change experts or ecotourism representatives. 

Although supposedly serving in their personal capacities, some panel members have publicly proclaimed that they represent their organisations.

How, it was asked, could they possibly come to conclusions that could, for example, close down captive breeding or canned hunting of wildlife and vote against the export of ivory, rhino horn, lion bones or live animals? Who on the panel would propose non-consumptive alternatives or could understand the long-term effects of inbreeding or zoonotic transfer of disease? 

Through the panel’s wall of secrecy have filtered whispers of acrimony and personal attacks on dissenting voices. “Greenies” are not tolerated. The only welfare specialist, Karen Trendler, resigned citing “personal reasons”.

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