Pretoria - South Africa’s controversial lion bone trade came under the spotlight in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, with the National SPCA attacking the method used by the former minister of Environmental Affairs in determining the quota of bone exports in 2017 and 2018.
The former minister, Edna Molewa, in 2017 set the quota on 800 lion bones or skeletons and in 2018 the quota was 1 500. These derived from lions born in captivity.
The department's current minister, Barbara Creecy is still due to set the quota for 2019.
While the National SPCA is against the export of any lion bones, they want the government to make an informed decision and to consult them and other role players before deciding on the quotas.
Advocate Les Morison SC, argued that the minister should further consider some of the conditions that these captive-bred lions are kept, which according to the National SPCA, is “nothing short of horrific.”
The animal rights organisation said it tried to make submissions to the minister in the past when she considered the quotas, but their letter in this regard was simply ignored.
Morison argued that the 2017 and 2018 quotas were unlawful - not because of the total of exports on which the minister had decided on, but because she ignored relevant factors in making those determinations.
While the 2017 and 2018 quotas had already been allocated and the lion carcasses had been exported, it was still important to declare it unlawful, Morison said. He told Judge Jody Kollapen that a judgment will guide the new minister in her obligations in making determinations in this regard in future.
Judge Kollapen, at the start of the hearing, said that this case was not about the desirability of captive lion breeding, which he remarked was “the elephant in the room” and a subject for another day. It was about whether the minister had considered all the facts when she came to her decision regarding the quotas.
It was stated that the now former minister denied that she had the mandate to concern herself with the welfare of the captive lions in deciding on the quotas. This was why the input of the National SPCA was ignored.
But Morison said no export quotas should be determined until proper criteria for the welfare of captive bred lions had been established. “The question to be answered is was the welfare of the captive-bred lions relevant to the 2017 and 2018 quota determinations,” he asked.
Morison said it was the duty of the court to determine whether this is a relevant factor.
The South African Predator Association, which was allowed to join the proceedings, said a ban on trading would kill their industry and income.
They say the notion that the international trade in lion bones can have a negative impact on the survival of lions as a species in the wild is a myth and fuelled by emotion which is not supported by the true facts.
But this organisation agreed that a solution should be found which was in the interest of all. Advocate Francois Botes SC, said the application concerns the manner in which the captive breeding operations of lions are managed.
He said this application should be dealt with as expeditiously as possible, as it's important that Creecy decide on the 2019 quotas as soon as possible. If not, he said, the captive lion breeding industry is at risk to suffer irreparable harm.
Botes proposed that the court issue an order that government be directed to implement a public participation process prior to determining the quotas. He said all stakeholders and the public should be invited to give their input on these issues, including the norms relating to the slaughtering and breeding conditions of captive-lions.