April 13, 2024

Cabinet approves end to captive breeding of lions and rhinos

The Cabinet agreed to end the controversial captive breeding of lions and rhinos. Approved a policy position put forward by Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to close lion facilities and end commercial lion exploitation and “canned” hunting.

The Cabinet also agreed to phase out intensive management and captive breeding of rhinos and to improve the conservation of wild leopards. It also agreed to limit the live export of lions, elephants, leopards and both rhinoceros species only to habitats within Africa. This effectively reduces the growing Asian demand for zoo specimens.

Regarding the export of rhino horn and ivory, the policy says that South Africa would work to support international trade, only when “conditions become favourable”. It does not specify what these conditions are, but it provides a local platform on which the contested CITES export ban can be debated. It states that “there is no immediate intention to commercialize rhino horns”.

According to a press statement from the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, the policy “will transform practices within the wildlife industry that are not conducive to animal welfare and promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity generally, and of these species in particular.

Puppies running around on Willie Jacobs’ farm in Brits, North West Province. The farm was heavily criticized following the release of Blood Lions, a 2015 canned hunting exhibition. (Photo: Gallo Images/Rapport/Herman Verwey)

“This will reinforce South Africa’s position as a mega-diverse country and a leader in the conservation and sustainable use of these iconic species.”

The policy is the result of almost a decade of inquiries, reports, a parliamentary colloquium and growing local and international aversion to “canned” lion hunting, which was highlighted in a shocking film released in 2015 called Blood Lions.

These investigations include the Rhino Commission of Inquiry (2015), the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Lions Colloquium on Lion Breeding (2018), the Report of the High Level Panel on Lions, Rhinos, Elephants and Leopards (2021) and the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainment. utilization of South Africa’s biodiversity (2023).

More recently, the collapse of rhino breeder John Hume’s breeding program left the fate of around 2,000 rhinos in jeopardy until they were saved through a purchase for relocation by the NGO Africa Parks. The fate of his considerable stock of horns is unknown.

Read on Daily Maverick: Hume’s herd of 2,000 African rhinos gets a last-minute ‘lifeline’ in major purchase and rewilding project

The acceptance of the Political Position coincides with the publication for discussion by the Department of the Environment of a Strategy for the Economy of Biodiversity. This proposes increasing the areas under conservation – called living conservation megalandscapes – from 20 million hectares to 34 million hectares by 2040, an area equal to seven Kruger National Parks.

The strategy calls for a greater focus on tourism in these landscapes, as well as more Big Five animals available for fair game trophy hunting.

It also envisages an expansion of recreational and traditional hunting, wild meat harvesting and fishing, and the increased use of indigenous plants and insects for food. The plan massively expands the areas under a form of protection.

Read more at Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa and Creecy defend controversial ‘biodiversity business’ plan

The ban on breeding captive-bred lions raises the question of what to do with an estimated 10,000 lions. A panel appointed by the department has been discussing this issue since its appointment last year and its recommendations are expected to be released soon.

Lions bred in captivity cannot be rewilded due to genetic inbreeding, the poor conditions of many, and because lions are social animals that are taught to hunt and survive in open systems by a pride.

There appear to be three options: euthanize them, open them up to hunting, or finance their care at sanctuaries. It is likely that a combination of these solutions will be considered.

The Policy Position calls for greater conservation of wild rhinos and elephants under private, community and state ownership, a recognition that private ownership of wildlife – unique to South Africa – has been a conservation success story. It makes a clear distinction between intensive wildlife farming and wild ranching, which would include private game reserves.

It states that the captive lion industry involves intensive and selective breeding, management, hunting of captive or captive-bred lions, and trade in lion bones and other derivatives. “This threatens South Africa’s reputation as a leader in wildlife conservation and as a country and destination with iconic wild lions.

Read more on Daily Maverick: ‘I’m a lion breeder. Nobody takes my lions: creators threaten legal action for closure of the industry

“While some operators may implement acceptable welfare standards, there are major animal welfare misdemeanors in the wider industry. This policy objective seeks to ensure a duty of care towards lions.”

The Policy outlines the necessary steps:

  • Stop the domestication of lions in controlled environments;
  • End the exploitation of captive and captive-bred lions;
  • End the breeding of lions in captivity, including through sterilization;
  • Close facilities for captive lions;
  • Develop an exit process regarding the elimination of lions in existing captive facilities;
  • Monitor impacts on breeding other feline species and ensure that poor lion practices are not transferred to other species;
  • Improve wild lion safety to prevent a shift to illegal culling of wild lion populations;
  • Expand the number and distribution of extensive wildlife systems containing free-ranging lions;
  • Address the future employment of workers in the industry;
  • Develop enabling regulatory tools to end the keeping, breeding, handling and trade of captive lions and their parts and derivatives, the hunting of captive and captive-bred lions, and the establishment of new facilities for captive lions.

The implementation of these actions, states the Policy Position, will result in the closure of the captive lion industry. DM


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