Stop pass­ing the buck on cap­tive-bred lions

Be­yond the cru­elty lies con­cern for its im­pact on South Africa’s con­ser­va­tion cred­i­bil­ity and on wild lion pop­u­la­tions, writes

The Mercury - - NEWS -

CAP­TIVE-bred lions at a recently ex­posed “li­on­abat­toir” in the Free State are wait­ing for their fate to be de­cided as the de­part­ments of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs (DEA) and Agri­cul­ture and Fish­eries are dodg­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­cent mass-slaugh­ter of cap­tive-bred an­i­mals for the lion bone ex­port trade.

Although the killing caused an out­cry, an of­fi­cial re­sponse from the govern­ment is yet to be made, with both de­part­ments re­fus­ing to com­ment on it.

Ac­cord­ing to Albi Modise of the DEA, the depart­ment could not com­ment on the mass killing of lions as the wel­fare of these cap­tive-bred lions fell un­der the man­date of the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, Forestry and Fish­eries (DAFF), and was there­fore not the DEA’s con­cern.

When ap­proached on this state­ment, DAFF re­fused to com­ment and said that the lions weren’t their re­spon­si­bil­ity ei­ther, but rather that of the Free State Depart­ment of Eco­nomic and Small Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment, Tourism and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs (Destea).

Ac­cord­ing to Dirk Ha­gen of Destea, this depart­ment an­swers nei­ther to the DEA or DAFF. He says Destea is re­spon­si­ble for the is­su­ing of per­mits for cap­tive-bred lions to be killed in the Free State, but that the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for the lions’ wel­fare re­sides with the SPCA and an­i­mal own­ers.

The cur­rent ex­port quota, which al­lows the an­nual ex­port of 800 lion skele­tons from cap­tive-bred an­i­mals a year, was ap­proved by the DEA last year.

Per­mits to fill this quota are de­ter­mined provin­cially, and ap­proved by the DEA, pro­vided that there is na­tional avail­abil­ity.

An­i­mal cru­elty

The blame game comes af­ter a to­tal of 73 lions were shot for their bones to be ex­ported to Asia last month. Op­er­a­tions at the “abat­toir” were halted when per­mits for the trans­port and killing of the lions were re­voked.

A case of an­i­mal cru­elty is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the SAPS af­ter the Bloem­fontein SPCA laid charges against Wag-’n-Bi­etjie farm owner An­dré Steyn and his farm man­ager, Jo­han van Dyk.

Ac­cord­ing to Reinet Meyer‚ se­nior in­spec­tor at the lo­cal SPCA, a case of an­i­mal cru­elty was opened re­gard­ing two lions that were held in a very small crate for days with­out food or wa­ter, be­fore be­ing de­stroyed.

These lions were brought from Preda­tors Pride in Hart­beespoort to Wag-’n-Bi­etjie to be killed.

Destea is also con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the sit­u­a­tion at Wag-’n-Bi­etjie farm, Ha­gen con­firmed.

Ac­cord­ing to Meyer, 246 more cap­tive lions re­main on Wag-’n-Bi­etjie farm – some bred by Steyn, and some brought to the farm from other cap­tive-breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Around 100 lions were re­port­edly marked for slaugh­ter, in ad­di­tion to those al­ready killed, but since the farm’s per­mits have been re­voked, the an­i­mals now await their fate on Steyn’s farm.

Dr Kelly Marnewick, se­nior trade of­fi­cer for the En­dan­gered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Wildlife in Trade Pro­gramme, says “no per­mits should be is­sued with­out com­pre­hen­sive wel­fare reg­u­la­tions in place for the man­age­ment and slaugh­ter of wildlife and com­pletely ef­fec­tive com­pli­ance mon­i­tor­ing.

“There is a se­vere lack of trans­parency around the trade in lion bones and man­age­ment of the fa­cil­i­ties, the per­mits, the wel­fare con­sid­er­a­tions and the im­pacts of the in­dus­try.”

Fol­low­ing the month of blood­shed in the cap­tive-lion in­dus­try, ma­jor big cat con­ser­va­tion groups, in­clud­ing the EWT, Pan­thera, WildlifeACT, WildTrust, Blood Lions and the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ser­van­cies, called on South Africa’s Min­is­ter of En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs, Dr Edna Molewa, to act fast in reg­u­lat­ing the cap­tive-breed­ing car­ni­vore in­dus­try in South Africa to avoid fur­ther blood­shed.

“The time has clearly come for leg­is­la­tion to be put in place to end all pub­lic in­ter­ac­tions with car­ni­vores in South Africa.

“There is no jus­ti­fi­able ra­tio­nale for the pub­lic to be in­ter­act­ing with car­ni­vores in cap­tiv­ity, risk­ing peo­ple’s lives,” the open let­ter reads.

Fur­ther­more, the doc­u­ment states that the depart­ment could be held ac­count­able if more fa­tal­i­ties re­lated to the cap­tive-bred in­dus­try oc­cur.

“Should the South African govern­ment con­tinue to turn a blind eye to this is­sue, more peo­ple will be in­jured or killed. It is clear that the cur­rent sys­tem is flawed and a fail­ure to re­act rapidly to pro­tect peo­ple would be neg­li­gent.”

The con­ser­va­tion heavy­weights have urged the DEA to en­force “strict reg­u­la­tions for the man­age­ment of all car­ni­vores held in cap­tiv­ity that en­sure that only qual­i­fied, ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple have ac­cess to these an­i­mals and that no risks are posed to ei­ther hu­man or an­i­mal life by un­re­stricted, un­reg­u­lated ac­cess by all peo­ple”.

Marnewick warns that apart from the dam­age the canned lion in­dus­try is do­ing to South Africa’s con­ser­va­tion cred­i­bil­ity, EWT is “also con­cerned about the pos­si­ble im­pact of this prac­tice on the wild lion pop­u­la­tion, and more so in other African coun­tries, where they are vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing poached.

“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.”

Steyn is a free­lance jour­nal­ist. This re­port was dis­trib­uted by the Con­ser­va­tion Ac­tion Trust. http:// con­ser­va­tion­ac­tion.co.za

PIC­TURE: THOMAS FER­GUS

Amir Khalil, Four Paws vet and head of the Ele­phants Lake project, pets his charges in Myan­mar.

Iol.co.za/mer­cury TheMer­curySA Mer­cpic TheMer­curySA

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