State needs to draw a lion in the sand about poaching
Experts say the export of lion bones, captive breeding and poaching are killing SA’s tourism and environmental reputation
The fate of SA’s lions – threatened by the government almost doubling the legal export of lion bones, captive breeding and an upsurge in poaching – will be debated on Wednesday when a report about this is released to the Environmental Affairs portfolio committee.
Portfolio committee chairperson Mohlopi Mapulane, who robustly chaired a two-day colloquium on captive lions last month, told Times Select: “The report is currently being finalised by our content adviser. We hope to consider as the committee the first draft report next week on Wednesday.”
Three captive lions were found dead – two with missing paws and heads – at a predator farm in Limpopo two weeks ago. The previous month six lions were found dead at another game farm in Limpopo, with the heads and paws chopped off four of them.
The colloquium last month, Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in SA: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country, was convened after public outrage at the government’s recent decision to increase the export of lion skeletons to 1,500.
Michele Pickover, director of the EMS Foundation, said: “SA is the only country supporting the lion bone trade which is growing the illicit wildlife market, and increasingly we are seen as a pariah.”
According to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the poaching of captive lions has more than doubled since SA legalised the cross-border trade in lion bones. It said 13 captive-bred lions were poached for their body parts in SA in the year preceding the quote (June 2016 to May 2017), compared to 31 lions being killed between June 2017 and May 2018.
Dr Kelly Marnewick, senior trade officer of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said most parties who participated in the colloquium supported the closure of this industry.
“They expressed great concern that the practice is damaging our conservation and tourism reputation and track record. It was made very clear by a wide diversity of biologists, conservation experts and animal welfare NGOs that this practice has no conservation value whatsoever and is entirely driven by commercial gain,” said Marnewick.
Wild lions become targets if the legal lion bone export continues to grow, as it has since 2007, she said.
Four major conservation organisations (Endangered Wildlife Trust, Centre for Environmental Rights, Wildlands Conservation Trust, National Association of Conservancies / Stewardship), stated in response to the increased quota: “There has also been an increase in poaching of wild lions for their parts in Mozambique. Thus it is clear that the captive lion breeders are not preventing the poaching of wild lions, or may in fact be stimulating it,”
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa justified the increased quota based on research about the trade and poaching. But, said Pickover, the researchers have declared that “there was not enough data and no scientific justification” to increase the quota.
Chief Patekile Songo Holomisa‚ the honorary president of Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA) and deputy minister of labour, has said that lions need to be protected.
“Lions are revered in traditional culture. Canned hunting is not acceptable. It is abhorrent to African culture. Lions should be roaming in the wild and not be subjected to this kind of cowardice.”
Researchers, conservation NGOs and hunting associations were among the parties who made representations to the lion meeting.
Currently some 8,000 lions are being held in captivity at nearly 300 facilities in SA. Cases have been reported of starving adults held in tiny cages, awaiting slaughter.
They are typically males who are too old or big for lion petting or walking. Conservationists have warned that the captive lion industry fuels cruelty, killing for bone export and canned hunting.