Cape Times


- EDNA MOLEWA Minister of Environmen­tal Affairs

SOUTH Africa has a long and well-establishe­d track record for lion conservati­on. The conservati­on group Panthera notes that we are one of only seven countries worldwide containing substantia­l lion population­s in the wild.

All South Africans should be assured that our lion conservati­on policies are not only backed up by scientific evidence, but remain firmly in line with all the prescripts of the Convention on the Internatio­nal Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

We welcome the initiative by the Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmen­tal Affairs (PCEA) in convening a colloquium to facilitate discussion around various issues in the lion conservati­on space. The two-day colloquium kicked off in Cape Town yesterday (August 21 2018) and is open to the public.

The discussion is both timely and critical; and will present an opportunit­y for the actors in the conservati­on sector, government, the private sector, NGOs and others to deliberate on matters of captive breeding, conservati­on, lion hunting, and associated issues of trade in lion specimens.

Regrettabl­y, the current public discourse is awash with heavily slanted and often misreprese­nted informatio­n. This is harmful to government’s ongoing conservati­on efforts, and also to those of organisati­ons in the wildlife and game industry that are working with us to ensure the survival of lion species in the wild.

This collaborat­ive conservati­on approach, underpinne­d by sustainabl­e use principles, has seen the resurgence of multiple species being brought back from near extinction. These include the Black Rhino, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and African Hunting Dog.

As always, the starting point on any discussion around lion conservati­on should be scientific, and not anecdotal.


The African lion, Panthera Leo, an indigenous species – is not facing extinction, or “an unpreceden­ted crisis” from either hunting, captive breeding or the trade in lion bone in South Africa.

It is currently listed as threatened (sub-category: Vulnerable) in terms of the National Environmen­t Management Biodiversi­ty Act (NEMBA). A 2016 regional Red List assessment noted that lions in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are of least concern – thus confirming the stability of the population.

The process of Non-Detrimenta­l findings is done to ascertain the level of threat to the survival of species in the wild.

According to the Non-Detriment Finding (NDF) for Panthera Leo made by the Scientific Authority and gazetted this year, there are 3 500 African lions in the wild in South Africa.

Eighty-three percent of South Africa’s lions in the wild are in reserves and national parks, primarily the Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfront­ier Park and the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. The remainder of the national wild population – approximat­ely 500 individual­s – are found in 45 small reserves where lions have been re-introduced and are managed.

The NDF found there are presently no major threats to the wild lion population­s within South Africa. Importantl­y, recent quantitati­ve data suggests that our lion population­s are stable to increasing.

LION HUNTING All activities involving the African lion, including hunting, possession and trade are regulated through a permit system; and our conservati­on policies are supported by solid scientific evidence. We also employ adaptive management strategies within certain contexts.

Hunting is a legal and well-regulated activity – and is subject to a permit being issued in terms of the NEMBA as well as in terms of provincial conservati­on legislatio­n where required. It is part of South Africa’s policy on sustainabl­e utilisatio­n of natural resources – a principle supported by multilater­al environmen­tal agreements such as CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

South Africa’s national and provincial government­s have been instrument­al in promoting the growth of the hunting industry.

The industry is valued at around R6.2 billion and with its value chain, is a source of foreign exchange and job creation, especially in rural areas.

The legal, well-regulated hunting industry should not be put into the same category as the actions of unscrupulo­us operators who operate on the periphery.


In addition to our wild lion and managed wild lion population­s, there are currently approximat­ely 7 000 lions that have been bred in captivity in around 260 captive breeding facilities in South Africa.

Lions are bred or kept in captive facilities for various reasons including but not limited to hunting, but also as a potential source for zoological purposes or possible future reintroduc­tions strictly in line with conservati­on objectives.

The captive breeding of lions continues to be misreprese­nted – specifical­ly that the captive breeding of lions leads to poaching.

To date however, the collaborat­ive work between the Department’s Green Scorpions and the South African Police Service (SAPS) has not made a causal link.

The trophy hunting of captive-bred lions poses no threat to the wild lion population within South Africa, and it is thought that captive-bred lions may in fact serve as a buffer to potential threats to wild lions by being the primary source of hunting trophies and derived products.

It is necessary to reiterate once again that the concept of so-called “canned hunting” of lions does not exist in any of our South African conservati­on laws.

The hunting of captive bred lions is managed through the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulation­s.

The TOPS Regulation­s and various provincial ordinances lay out the conditions under which a lion may be hunted – and forbid activities such as hunting a lion in an enclosure or hunting a tranquiliz­ed lion.


As with any legal activity, there are those illicit operators who operate on the margins, and South Africa is doing everything within its means to stamp out activities that involve captive bred lions in a manner that violates our laws.

To address concerns of the public around the conditions in which lions are bred in captivity, a national compliance inspection of captive lion breeding facilities in South Africa has been instituted.

Phase one has been completed and the report is being prepared for submission and scrutiny by the Minister and to the provincial MECs for Environmen­t.

It will include, inter alia, recommenda­tions on matters of compliance.

The department also continues to engage with the Department of Agricultur­e, Forestry and Fisheries relating to welfare matters to be addressed in terms of the Animal Protection Act, and any other regulatory tool for animal welfare management.

LION BONE TRADE South Africa supports the trade in legally acquired specimens such as hunting trophies and other lion specimens such as skeletons in line with our sustainabl­e utilisatio­n policies.

Such acquisitio­n and trade follows a prescribed and well-regulated process.

The trade in lion bone goes as far back as 2008 and has been steadily increasing over the past decade primarily due to the demand for bone in some countries in Asia.

It is necessary to challenge the assertion that the export of lion skeletons will result in the extinction of African lions.

In 2016, TRAFFIC released a report called “Bones of Contention”, which analysed the risk associated with trade in bones derived from captive bred lions. They could find no evidence that South Africa’s legal bone export trade was negatively impacting wild lion population­s.

According to the Internatio­nal Union for Conservati­on of Nature (IUCN) the key threats to lion population­s are loss of habitat, reduction in available prey and conflict with humans. The few incidents of captive-bred and wild lions being poached appear to be linked to the poaching of lions for their body parts and not specifical­ly for their bones.

The establishm­ent of an annual quota for the export of lion bone follows a decision made at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to CITES. Parties agreed at COP17 to a zero annual quota on the export of bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes.

However, Parties agreed that South Africa should establish an annual export quota for bones derived from captive breeding facilities in South Africa.


South Africa continues to generate knowledge on lion bone trade to assist in the management of this activity. To supplement the historical informatio­n on lion bone trade since both pre- and post- determinat­ion of the quota system, a research project has been commission­ed involving the South African National Biodiversi­ty Institute (SANBI) in collaborat­ion with the University of the Witwatersr­and, Oxford University and the University of Kent. Its preliminar­y findings and those of other regional and internatio­nal studies will assist in the determinat­ion of export quotas.

The implementa­tion of the quota for 2018 will be managed by the national and provincial conservati­on authoritie­s, and strict processes must be followed in line with provincial and national legislatio­n to ensure that no illegal trade in lion bones takes place.

Parties to COP17 further issued an instructio­n to the CITES Secretaria­t to undertake studies on legal and illegal trade in lions, including lion bones and other parts and derivative­s. The purpose is to ascertain the origin and smuggling routes in collaborat­ion with TRAFFIC and/or other relevant organisati­ons.

In tandem, SANBI has commission­ed a study into how the trade in captive-produced lion bone under an export quota system affects wild lion population­s.

This study will further strengthen the evidence-base for the annual review of the export quota, in order to ensure that it is sustainabl­e and not detrimenta­l to wild population­s.


Various interest groups are pressuring South Africa to ban the captive breeding of lions as well as the trade in bones sourced from captive bred lions.

This is not a simple step and comes with its own set of challenges and consequenc­es. Whatever decision is made requires trade-offs and comes with a set of outcomes.

If South Africa closes down lion breeding facilities and bans trade, more than 297 facilities with associated staff will be negatively affected.

In addition, an estimated 8 000 lions will suddenly have no value and there will be no income for food, veterinary care and shelter.

A trade ban only restricts the flow of legal products, so, with a potential ready supply of surplus lions and people whose main expertise is in the lion trade.

We have instituted bans before and with regards to trade ban in species. A trade ban only restricts the flow of legal products and in this case the result will be that ongoing demand will be supplied from illegal sources.

Our experience with the illegal trade in rhino horn has shown that poaching operations and illegal trade networks proliferat­e when there is no legally acquirable supply.

Removing a legal and regulated trade in bone and other parts threatens to increase the risk of poaching of wild lion in order to supply demand mainly from Asian markets.

The illegal killing of wild lions is presently at low levels in South Africa. A ban may stimulate an illegal trade in lion bones and other parts. South Africa has adopted a risk-averse approach that is considered to be in the best interests of the conservati­on of the species.

Measures introduced by the government to manage lion population­s are a clear indication that we are focused on the protection and conservati­on of lion in South Africa.

In reaching any decisions regarding the hunting or trade of any species, the Department of Environmen­tal Affairs and, ultimately the Minister, has to weigh up the advice from the Scientific Authority against the many trade-offs.

The basic principle is to ensure the survival of species in the wild.

There is also the need to balance conservati­on with trade dynamics and other socio-economic considerat­ions. There is no one size fits all in dealing with the challenges, opportunit­ies facing the management of not just lion, but a variety of species.

The well-regulated, sustainabl­e utilisatio­n of wildlife is an integral part of conservati­on, and South Africa is one of the world leaders in this regard.

All members of the public are encouraged to provide us with any informatio­n relating to illegal and prohibited activities that are carried out in contravent­ion to our environmen­tal laws. Non-compliance can be reported through the Environmen­tal Crime Hotline: 0800 205 005

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