Lion-breed­ing calamity

The En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs De­part­ment needs to take note of the abuse of these an­i­mals and not turn a blind eye

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Shan­non Ebrahim is group for­eign ed­i­tor SHAN­NON EBRAHIM

ANY­ONE who has watched the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary Blood Lions will agree that the prac­tice of hunt­ing cap­tive bred lions is cruel, bar­baric and macabre. Two years ago the South African gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted to mount­ing pub­lic con­cern over canned lion hunt­ing.

Af­ter stake­holder con­sul­ta­tions in 2015, the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs (DEA) largely ig­nored the in­put of con­ser­va­tion groups, and sided with the breeders who raise lions in cages in or­der to be shot and killed by for­eign thrill-seek­ers.

The irony is that these breeders and hunters from some 200 farms across the coun­try are known for their re­ac­tionary views. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, nearly all of these op­er­a­tors come out of the apartheid era. With a very nar­row, con­ser­va­tive and util­i­tar­ian ap­proach to wildlife and the en­vi­ron­ment, they are now mak­ing huge prof­its by charg­ing up to $50 000 (R6.8 mil­lion) to kill a black-maned lion,” says lead con­ser­va­tion­ist Ian Mich­ler, who fea­tured in Blood Lions. Mich­ler points out that “most of these char­ac­ters have never cared for an­i­mal rights, nor for hu­man rights for that mat­ter.” It seems this is a fine ex­am­ple of white monopoly cap­i­tal.

This begs the ques­tion: Why is our gov­ern­ment pan­der­ing to the greed of a hand­ful of right-wing breeders and hunters at the ex­pense of our rep­u­ta­tion as a coun­try that pro­motes eth­i­cal and au­then­tic tourism, and en­gages in the re­spon­si­ble util­i­sa­tion of wildlife? Why are we pre­pared to en­dan­ger Brand South Africa as well as our lion pop­u­la­tion that is fac­ing the high risk of ex­tinc­tion, and set­ting quo­tas on sell­ing their body parts – all for the fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit of a few breeders?

South Africa is left with only around 3 000 lions in the wild, while 8 000 are be­ing bred in cap­tiv­ity in or­der to be shot by hunters, the ma­jor­ity of whom come from the US. Cur­rently two to three cap­tive lions are killed every day in South Africa.

The well fi­nanced and united front put for­ward by the breeders has con­vinced the DEA of the myth that the breed­ing of cap­tive lions helps to save the wild pop­u­la­tion. All the con­ser­va­tion­ists agree there is ab­so­lutely no ev­i­dence to back that up.

Ac­cord­ing to a num­ber of ex­perts, cap­tive lion breed­ing for hunt­ing has in­creased the cases of wild lion poach­ing, as breeders need a con­stant sup­ply of wild lions to stop in-breed­ing. Last month the DEA set a quota of 800 lion car­casses of cap­tive bred lions that are al­lowed to be ex­ported an­nu­ally. All ex­perts agree this is likely to pro­mote the de­mand in Asia, as lion parts are highly sought af­ter for use in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, as they are be­ing used as a sub­sti­tute for tiger bones.

Dur­ing the 2015 stake­holder con­sul­ta­tions the DEA fo­cused on the South Africa Preda­tor As­so­ci­a­tion (a pri­vate body set up to rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of breeders), the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Hunters As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa, SA Hunters and Game As­so­ci­a­tion of SA, and the Pro­fes­sional Hunters As­so­ci­a­tion of SA. Ac­cord­ing to Karen Trendler, who was in­volved in the mak­ing of Blood Lions, the 2015 con­sul­ta­tions were largely one-sided and the in­put of con­ser­va­tion­ists was ig­nored.

There is not one con­ser­va­tion group that sup­ports cap­tive lion breed­ing for hunt­ing pur­poses. Among those that have come out strongly against it are the African Lion Work­ing Group (com­pris­ing 100 reg­is­tered sci­en­tists), the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust, Pan­thera, Wild­lands, Wild Cat Con­ser­va­tion Group, In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (key global con­ser­va­tion lead­ers), the In­ter­na­tional Fund for An­i­mal Wel­fare, Four Paws, Coali­tion Against Lion Hunt­ing, the NSPCA and the Hu­mane So­ci­ety In­ter­na­tional.

When DEA Min­is­ter Edna Molewa was in­vited to at­tend the screen­ing of Blood Lions at the Dur­ban In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in 2015, she de­clined, but Botswana’s en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter flew in for the screen­ing. The Pro­fes­sional Hunters As­so­ci­a­tion of South Africa also at­tended the screen­ing, and has since come out strongly against preda­tor breed­ing and hunt­ing say­ing “It is clear the prac­tices are no longer de­fen­si­ble.” SA Out­fit­ters, a pro­fes­sional hunt­ing body, also put out a strong state­ment in July op­posed to the hunt­ing of cap­tive bred lions.

Un­for­tu­nately the DEA has bought into the spu­ri­ous claim of the breeders that the industry is a source of job cre­ation and con­trib­utes to lion con­ser­va­tion. Noth­ing can be fur­ther from the truth. At most the industry cre­ates around 300 di­rect jobs, and far greater em­ploy­ment would be cre­ated if the breed­ing farms went back to be­ing maize and cat­tle farm­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Trendler, the industry doesn’t ben­e­fit lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, and the work­ing con­di­tions on the breed­ing farms are some of the worst in terms of labour re­la­tions.

Mich­ler ex­plains that cap­tive lions can never be re­leased into the wild as they are ge­net­i­cally con­tam­i­nated, a dan­ger to hu­mans as they are no longer afraid of them, and they would not sur­vive due to be­ing out-com­peted by other lions and hye­nas. The World Wide Fund for Na­ture in South Africa has clearly stated that there is no con­ser­va­tion ben­e­fit to cap­tive lion breed­ing and hunt­ing, and it is un­eth­i­cal.

The mes­sage be­ing cre­ated is that “South Africa is al­low­ing Africa’s most iconic species, a mag­nif­i­cent apex preda­tor, to be bred and con­fined to cages in or­der to be killed by rich for­eign­ers”, says Mich­ler. Images of South Africa’s cap­tive lions which are fed and main­tained poorly, and rarely re­ceive vet­eri­nary care, are be­ing screened around the world. As Derek Hanekom ad­mit­ted when he was min­is­ter of tourism, the industry is dam­ag­ing Brand South Africa.

The DEA is swim­ming against the tide. Ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by con­ser­va­tion group Four Paws, 76% of South Africans be­lieve that cap­tive lion hunt­ing is un­eth­i­cal.

In 2013, Botswana banned all tro­phy hunt­ing. In 2015, Aus­tralia, France and the Nether­lands banned im­ports of lion tro­phies from South Africa. And last year, US Fish and Wildlife is­sued a di­rec­tive against im­port­ing cap­tive-bred-lion tro­phies, and in­cluded lions on its en­dan­gered species list.

There needs to be a South African so­lu­tion to this tragedy. At the end of the day it comes down to an is­sue of moral­ity, and Brand South Africa is at stake.


En­dan­gered: About 80 peo­ple marched against canned lion hunt­ing and the eu­thana­sia of Sylvester the lion which es­caped for the sec­ond time from a sanc­tu­ary near Beau­fort West.

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