The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Friday reserved judgment in an appeal by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) against the former manager of a South China tiger project in South Africa.

The NSPCA appealed against a Free State High Court order refusing it an interdict to prevent Peter Openshaw from presenting live prey animals to a predator at the Laohu Valley Reserve near Philippolis.

The Laohu Valley reserve is a project aimed at saving South China tiger's, an endangered subspecies of tiger, from extinction.

Captive born South China tigers, from zoos in China, are taught to survive in the bush at Laohu Valley.

Legal counsel for the NSPCA, Les Morison, submitted that "part of the training" of the tigers was against the Animals Protection Act, No 71 of 1962.

"There is a phase where buck are being restricted to be released in the immediate proximity (of the tigers)," submitted Morison.

The NSPCA filed for an interdict after a SABC conservation programme, 50/50, showed a captured bles buck, caught in a net.

The bles buck was apparently caught to be presented "live" to two tigers.

The NSPCA's case was that Openshaw had and would (in future) present prey in such a manner or place as to expose it to "immediate attack or danger of attack" by the tigers.

The act provides that any person who "liberates any animal is such manner or place or by wild animals, or baits or provokes any animal or incites any animal to attack another animal" shall be guilty of an offence".

Morison submitted that the action where the live bles buck was in a situation such as "presenting a meal" in "close proximity" was wrong.

Openshaw denied that bles buck had been released in "close proximity" of the tigers as it would be "counter productive".

Legal counsel for Openshaw, Matthew Chaskalson, also submitted there was no prima facie case against Openshaw.

The Free State High Court held that on the facts before it, "the exposure of the antelope to immediate attack or danger" was not within the meaning of the act.

The SCA reserved judgment on the appeal.

The Bloemfontein court also reserved judgment in an application that the appeal was doubtful because Openshaw had in the meantime resigned at Laohu Valley and had taken a position in Abu Dhabi.

The NSPCA sought an interdict against Openshaw in person.

Chaskalson submitted that a judgment by the SCA could now have no practical effect or result.

The NSPCA argued the matter was still of public importance as the aim of the project was to get more tigers to be trained and thus there would be ongoing "human intervention" in the programme.

However, Chaskalson submitted that the NSPCA's attempt to get a court decision against the Chinese Tigers South African Trust, which oversees the re-wilding project, would be unfair.

"The party was not part of the litigation," said Chaskalson. - Sapa