Can it! MPs want an end to captive lion breeding
Committee tells the government to ‘put an end’ to the practice that feeds the canned hunting and bone trade
Parliament’s environmental affairs portfolio committee has roared loudly and emphatically: captive breeding of lion for hunting and for the lion bone trade should be stopped in SA.
The controversial practice – commonly referred to as canned hunting and defined in the parliamentary report as “unfairly preventing the target animal from escaping the hunter, thereby eliminating the ‘fair chase’ and guaranteeing the hunter a trophy” – has been under fire in recent years amid a strong local and international backlash.
This was heightened three years ago when the award-winning Blood Lions was released, a documentary that investigated the canned lion industry in SA.
There are an estimated 11,000 lions in SA, of which about 3,000 are in the wild. The remaining 8,000 are in “captive facilities, being bred for various purposes, including hunting, tourism, live sales, petting, zoological purposes and lion bone trade”, according to parliament’s report.
In a hard-hitting report presented in the committee last week, MPs made a number of critical “observations” against captive lion breeding (audio of the discussion in the committee meeting is provided at the bottom of this story).
Among their findings were: “Captive breeding of lions for hunting has long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape”;
“There is generally no conservation value in the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa”;
The industry is “internationally considered unethical”, and the “bad publicity that surrounds this industry must be carefully acknowledged and digested, as it breaks moral and ecological boundaries”;
“The current practice of captive lion breeding for hunting and the relevant legislation that supports the practice is unanimously criticised at an international level. This is not the image South Africa wants for the National Brand”; and
“The financial revenue from captive lion breeding for hunting is not worth compromising our National Brand reputation and position as a unique wildlife destination.”
“The most positive outcome from a reputation management point of view would be for South Africa to ban captive lion breeding, especially where such breeding has become counterproductive or harms the image of the country.
“This tragic story needs to be arrested forthwith to avoid inflicting further and irreparable damage to the South African conservation image and the responsible hunting industry that the country has succeeded to built over the years,” the committee report states.
The 24-page report comes after a two-day colloquium on August 21 and 22 this year, which was addressed by conservation experts, lobby groups and pro-hunting organisations.
While many of the pro-groups provide reasons for their stance – which ranged in the report from biodiversity conservation and economic development to good current levels of regulation – the committee wasn't convinced.
To this end, it has recommended that the department of environmental affairs urgently initiates a policy and legislative review of captive breeding of lions for hunting and the lion bone trade “with a view of putting an end to this practice”.
The committee also wants the department to conduct an audit of captive lion breeding facilities across the country to ensure they were complying with legislation and regulations.
It has also recommended that the department “reconsider” the increase in the quota for legal export of lion bone, which was pushed up from 800 skeletons to 1,500 skeletons earlier this year. In a statement, the committee said this increase was “informed by commercial considerations, as opposed to science”.
However, some organisations are not likely to accept the recommendations without a fight. One organisation, quoted in the report, said it would “go to court if any decision is made to ban the breeding of lions in captivity for the purposes of hunting”.
The Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, meanwhile, have welcomed the committee’s adoption of the report.
“We hope that this is the beginning of a just and equitable system for the management of captive lions and other wild animals bred for commercial use in South Africa, and we look forward to participating in the policy and legislature review of the industry,” said CER attorney Aadila Agjee.