Wild abandoned: the law is letting our animals down

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Wild abandoned: the law is letting our animals down

Their wellbeing is in a dire state, but changing legislation will be pointless if it is not enforced

News editor

Our wild animals are at risk, and our laws seemingly aren’t doing enough to protect them.
This is the gist of an argument presented in a report released this week that investigated the laws that protect the country’s wild animals, and also how those laws are implemented.
The findings are dire, and drastic changes are needed. Fair Game? Improving the Regulation of the Well-being of South African Wildlife – released by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) – found that there were “major gaps” in the legislation and the implementation of those laws.
This had the result of “leaving the wellbeing of wild animals without adequate protection”.
“The organisations recommend the clarification of the legal mandate for wildlife welfare, and the updating of legislation. They also call for greater investment in compliance monitoring and enforcement, and a standardised and transparent permitting system for activities involving and affecting wildlife.
“In practice, the current legal regime ultimately provides little protection for wild animals,” a summary of the report’s findings reads.And while the report suggests that legislation – both at national and provincial level – needed to be updated, it warned that enforcement of those laws would always be key. 
“Designing a regulatory system without providing for the means and capacity to monitor and enforce compliance is entirely self-defeating,” the report, released on Monday, states.
“Without a firm commitment to capacity-building within the provincial conservation departments, any improvements to the jurisdictional regime or the legislation will be inadequate,” it continued.
“Well-staffed departments with trained and experienced officials and consistent, authoritative application of the law are required to ensure the protection of welfare and biodiversity conservation.”The CER and EWT acknowledged that this would require additional budgets – but then suggested that it could be relatively easy to come up with the cash, provided stern decisions were taken.
First, they suggested, was that the current permit application fees of R500  be increased for different types of permits.
For example, the higher-risk the animal, the more the applicant should be made to pay. They argued it was possible to “link the risk posed by the permitted activities to the wild animals in question, and members of the public, and to the turnover of that particular enterprise”.
“For example, game ranchers, auctioneers, wildlife interaction facilities and other businesses that profit from the exploitation of wild animals should necessarily pay larger application fees for each of their permits so that the permit condition and welfare enforcement are included in the cost of doing business,” the report states.It was also possible, the groups said, that any fines collected from criminal convictions linked to animal cases be used to fund law enforcement.
CER wildlife attorney Aadila Agjee said: “The combination of government agencies regulating wildlife and welfare, outdated and at times inadequate laws, inconsistent application and enforcement of those laws – and the strong focus on the commercial exploitation of wildlife – make clear that the welfare of wild animals is not currently a priority in South Africa.
“A set mandate, adequate budget for staffing, training and resources, updating of laws and practices, and consistency in the treatment of the wild animals to prioritise their wellbeing are critical.”
EWT chief executive Yolan Friedmann said: “The report … provides a positive platform from which the relevant government authorities can now address the dire need for vastly improved welfare governance for our wildlife.”

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