The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries’ determination to set yet another export quota for lion bones flies in the face of several ongoing processes aimed at curbing the controversial industry, including litigation launched by the NSPCA challenging the quota.
At a recent DEFF stakeholder meeting, purportedly to discuss the 2019 quota, chairperson Khorommbi Matibe made it clear from the outset that the meeting was not to discuss ethics or welfare within the industry.
“It’s not about whether there should be a quota; it’s just about how many can be exported,” he said.
The objective directly contradicts a Parliamentary motion, stating that the department should “as a matter of urgency initiate a policy and legislative review of captive lion breeding for hunting and lion bone trade, with a view of putting an end to this practice”.
It also disregards a Constitutional Court ruling, which held that animal welfare and conservation are intertwined concepts in that the protection of animal welfare is a part of the environmental right in section 24 of the Constitution.
According to Linda Park, director Voice4lions, the DEFF has already made up their minds and “they’re giving a big middle finger to conservation and anyone who opposes the industry.”
The meeting was just an “unnecessary, whitewashing exercise,” she says.
The NSPCA last year lodged an application in the South Gauteng High Court to interdict the department from authorising the of the export of lion bones and challenging the lion bone export quota.
DEFF communications manager Albi Modise confirmed litigation was still ongoing. However, he did not comment when questioned why the department had moved to determine the 2019 quota while litigation was still underway,
The matter is due in court at the end of June.
Meanwhile, “DEFF have ignored all outcomes and recommendations from a recent colloquium on the Captive Lion Breeding Industry in South Africa,” including the Parliamentary motion aimed at ending the trade.
This is according to a coalition to Stop the Breeding and Keeping of Lions and other Big Cats for Commercial Purposes, saying they are “deeply concerned” with DEFF’s intentions to continue establishing quotas.
According to the coalition coordinator, Dr Louise de Waal, “the Precautionary Principle has to apply here, so we should not be exporting lion bones, especially under a quota that is not based on science but simply on historical exports.”
She said it was ironic and inconsistent that the DEFF now insists on scientific, peer-reviewed data when the “initial quotas were based purely on an average of the preceding years of uncontrolled and unregulated exports with no science involved”.
The DEFF’s insistence to determine the quota also ignores an ongoing process to establish a High-Level Panel (HLP) to “advise the minister on issues pertaining to policies, legislation and practices in management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling” of iconic species, including lion.
Announcing plans for the HLP in December last year, then-DEA Minister Nomvula Mokonyane reduced the highly controversial 2018 lion bone export quota from 1500 to 800 skeletons. She said the department needed “to reflect on effectiveness of the implementation of the quota, enhance compliance and monitoring systems, and allow the HLP panel to incorporate these issues into their work”.
However, Ian Michler of Blood Lions, the DEFF’s continuous disregard for the ongoing processes does exactly that.
“The DEFF has already made up its mind. These meetings and processes are merely a sop to the public and those that oppose the lion bone trade,” he said.
‘Public’ participation sham
DEFF also opened a public participation process (PPP), asking for “members of the public to submit concise written scientific information or data for consideration by the Scientific Authority” before 15 June this year.
According to the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA), however, the requirements exclude the greater South African public.
“We feel that it is essentially a scientific review and not a PPP according to South African policy and procedure,” said Karen Trendler, NSPCA wildlife trade and trafficking manager.
“Whilst they will be accepting public comment, only scientific, peer-reviewed research will actually be considered in determining the quota.”
Audrey Delsink, director of the Humane Society International/Africa agreed.
“Scientific, peer-reviewed research is largely outside of the scope of the general public or interested and affected parties, which immediately excludes them from the criteria as established by DEFF.”Conservation Action Trust