Earlier this year, officials in the state of Florida, USA introduced legislation to ban the captive breeding of orcas as well as the keeping of them for entertainment purposes. Seen as a necessary and progressive step in line with our greater understanding of wild species, this move follows on from California successfully passing similar legislation in 2016.
It is against this backdrop that it’s worth reviewing South Africa’s current situation with regards to lion breeding and the commercial exploitation of these animals.
It’s been almost three years since the release of the feature documentary Blood Lions, and its global campaign to bring awareness around the issues portrayed in the film. Done in partnership with numerous local and international agencies, the film and campaign aims to do for lions what Blackfish has done for orcas.
To date, these efforts have brought numerous successes, at times way beyond initial expectations, and for this we owe huge thanks to all these committed partners. However, there is much work that remains as the indiscriminate breeding continues and thousands of predators remain on farms or in captive conditions, mostly to be used for hunting and tourism related purposes.
As we plan the next stages of the campaign, it is important to reiterate a few key issues.
Firstly, to those involved in the hunting of canned/captive/ranched lions; no amount of messing with language can divert attention from what underpins the practice of killing these animals. This country already has three different official categories for lions: wild, wild-managed and captive, two more than most conservationists would like to see. Despite the existing confusion among some, a small group of breeders and hunters are now trying to introduce a fourth grouping; that of ‘ranched’ lions.
And it’s worth pointing out that not a single lion breeder, captive hunting operator or commercial predator enterprise, and this includes the many outfits trying to justify their existence on the basis of their claims to conservation, are members of the ALWG.
These statements were followed up late last year by another damning one from the wider conservation community.It was sent to the US government in response to a letter “fraught with inaccuracies, false statements, and a flawed viewpoint”sent by SAPA in an attempt to have the captive lion trophy ban overturned.
A more recent development has been the awarding of an export quota of lion bones and skeletons by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), a move widely condemned by the recognized predator conservation community. According to Dr Paul Funston, Senior Director of Panthera’s lion programme, “The government’s proposed quota of 800 lion skeletons for legal export has absolutely no grounding in science.” Dr Funston went on to say that, “when the facts are clear; South Africa’s lion breeding industry makes absolutely no positive contribution to conserving lions and, indeed, further imperils them”.
These views are vital because they set the conservation and scientific agenda, not the words of farmers and businesses profiting from the breeding and commercial activities. Making sure visitors and volunteers to this country understand the accepted predator conservation objectives and approaches as well as the recognised agencies involved in securing them remains a central focus of the Blood Lions campaign.
And the same can be said about tourism in South Africa. The current marketing push is all about authentic, ethical and responsible tourism products. Petting lion or cheetah cubs and paying for other related activities hardly represents these parameters. It’s why the CEO of SA Tourism, SisaNtshona has been so outspoken. "South African Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on," he said earlier in 2017.
It’s also why the Blood Lions call to stop all the non-conservation breeding needs to be a priority. If we end the commercial breeding we end the need to deal with the current mess.
In the light of the unequivocal opposition from all sectors across the world, and the potential damage being done to Brand South Africa, the DEA’s ongoing aversion to listen or engage begs the question; who specifically are they listening to and why? Or, are there other issues at play here?
* Ian Michler is co-leader of the Blood Lions global campaign.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.