Captive-bred lions at a recently exposed 'lion-abattoir' in the Free State are waiting for their fate to be decided as both the Departments of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and Department of 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 government is yet to be made, with both departments refusing to comment on the matter.
According to Albi Modise of the DEA, the department could not comment on 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 of 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 per 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.
Charges of 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 South Africans Police Service (SAPS) after the Bloem 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' farm 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 as well as the management of the facilities, the permits, the welfare considerations and the impacts [of the industry]."
Global pressure to end captive practices
Following the month of bloodshed in the captive lion industry, major Big Cat conservation groups including Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), Panthera, WildlifeACT, WildTrust, Blood Lions and the National Association of Conservancies called on South Africa's Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, urging her 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."
Dr Marnewick further warns that, apart from the damage the canned lion industry is doing to SA'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."