The commodification of our lions
CRIMINAL syndicates may use the legal trade in lion bones from our captive lion population, as a cover for illegal wildlife trade, reveals a new report.
A damning report titled, ‘Cash before Conservation, an overview of the breeding of lions for hunting and bone trade’ in South Africa, was released by the UK-based Born Free Foundation on 19 March.
Will Travers OBE (President, Born Free Foundation) says, ‘The inauguration of South Africa’s new President, Cyril Ramaphosa heralds the opportunity for a fresh start.
‘Along with all the many other challenges the nation must address, bringing an end, in an intelligent and humane way, to the scourge of lion breeding farms and the trade in captive-bred lions should be a priority.’
South Africa holds a captive lion population of approximately 7 000 8 000 animals in around 260 breeding/captive facilities and is considered the world’s top destination for trophy hunting of captive-bred lions.
The export quota of 800 lion skeletons from the captive bred population also makes South Africa the world’s largest legal exporter of lion bones for traditional Chinese medicine in Asia.
While our wild lions are in peril across Africa, the rapid expansion of the commercial lion breeding and associated captive lion hunting and lion bone industry is a real cause for concern.
At the same time, commodification of our wildlife resources has the full support of the Department of Environment Affairs (DEA).
Illegal wildlife trade links
SA issued export permits for nearly 5 400 lion skeletons between 2008 and 2015.
The Tipping Point report stated that 153 export permits for lion skeletons were issued to Vinasakhone Trading in the Lao PDR, a company repeatedly at the centre of extensive illegal wildlife trade.
‘It is known that the illegal trade in rhino horn is operated through organized international criminal syndicates’, says the Born Free report.
It is therefore a reasonable assumption to make that the increase in poaching of rhinos in South Africa since 2007 is linked to the growth in the legal trade of lion bones.
Defending the indefensible
According to the report, the DEA has for the past 20 years consistently facilitated the growth of South Africa’s captive predator breeding industry.
The DEA has confirmed that it has not undertaken any scientific research demonstrating the conservation value of captive lion breeding.
Neither what the impact of lion bone trade and/or hunting of captive lions is on the wild lion populations in South Africa or elsewhere in Africa.
No scientific data is available of the impact of the legal lion bone trade on the illegal wildlife trade.
No research data
The Department only recently commissioned a three-year research project on these issues.
It has no independent figures demonstrating the financial worth of the captive predator breeding sector to the national economy.
It has no up-to-date figures on the number of jobs the captive lion breeding industry creates.
The lack of capacity, in terms of funding and skills, at provincial level has still not been resolved.
This hinders the proper management of permits and compliance of the breeding and hunting of captive bred lions.
A centralised database system has still not been put into place.
There is also no animal welfare legislation in place relevant to the captive predator breeding industry.
Draft Norms and Standards for the Welfare of Captive Lions have been due by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) since September 2016.
A lion resting peacefully without threat in a Zululand game reserve