Melanie Gosling

Environment Writer

THE owner of every mouse in a TV advertisement, every lion in a circus, every commercial guard dog, bunny on a petting farm or meerkat in a movie has to have a licence to allow the animals to perform.

Since 1935, owners have got their annual licences from magistrates under the Performing Animals Protection Act.

Now a Gauteng High Court has found that it is unconstitutional for magistrates to issue these licences, which has left performing animal owners in a pickle. They need to renew their licences by the end of the month, but it is not clear who now issues licences.

Luke Cornell, who has run a business for 24 years training animals mainly for use on film sets, is livid. He says those involved were not consulted and he found out by accident.

He said his staff were told by a Caledon magistrate this week that he could not issue licences any more. Magistrates had been informed by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) that they could no longer issue licences.

“When my staff asked who they must go to, he said he didn’t know. I’ve got millions invested in this farm… This has huge ramifications. It affects circuses, bird shows, zoos, security dog companies, elephant-back riding, TV ads, movies… No one consulted the industry. The entire film industry will be affected. You won’t be able to film even a budgie without a licence,” he said.

This muddle comes in the same week that Alan Winde, MEC for Finance, Economic Development and Tourism, announced that the Western Cape was to be “aggressively marketed” as a film destination.

The licence problem stems from a recent Pretoria high court judgment. The NSPCA had asked the court to find that the practice of magistrates handing out licences was unconstitutional, as magistrates were no longer meant to perform merely administrative tasks. The court found that it was unconstitutional.

The NSPCA also asked the court to order that the NSPCA should take over the licensing as an interim measure. The court declined to do so.

However, while the case was being heard, the NSPCA and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries agreed to set up a committee to take over the licensing function as an interim measure, with two representatives from the NSPCA, two from the Agriculture Department and one from the SA Veterinary Council. The judge made this committee an order of court.

To date, no committee has been set up.

Another problem is that only the Concourt can rule that a law is unconstitutional.

UCT law professor and constitutional court expert Pierre de Vos said if any other court found that a law was unconstitutional, that law remained in force until the Constitutional Court had confirmed the finding.

So magistrates are legally bound to continue issuing licences until then.

The Cape Times asked the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for comment on Wednesday, but had received no reply by late yesterday.