There is an expression in English that says “you could have knocked me over with a feather”. On Sunday May 2nd 2021 Ms Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment made a surprise announcement that knocked interested parties over with a feather! In simplistic terms she announced the government would immediately begin a process which would lead to the end of captive lion breeding and canned hunting, she said “the panel recommends that South Africa does not captive breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.  I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation in implementation is conducted."  

This historic announcement came almost 3 years after a Colloquim had been held which recommended that captive breeding should end.  Following the Colloquim a High Level Panel (HLP) was appointed to look at all the issues and report back with recommendations. Minister Creecy’s announcement was making public the recommendations of the HLP.

Since Sunday many have queried exactly what “ensure the necessary consulation in implementation” actually means? Is implementation to not captive breed lions, keep them in captivity, or trade their body parts going ahead as described on the tin, or will the “necessary consultation” lead to a watering down of what will eventually get implemented?

Towards the end of the meeting at which Minister Creecy was speaking an unidentified member of the audience interjected loudly claiming that the HLP recommendations would actually lead to the destruction of the lions they sought to protect. Minister Creecy replied “no change in policy can be made in a democracy without the participation of those affected”. This exchange indicates the probable difficulties that lie ahead in implementing these measures.

The 580-page HLP report is the outcome of nearly 2 years and involves submissions by more than 70 individuals and organisations.  There is no doubt that the length of time taken to produce the report, and the complexities involved, will now be reflected in the implementation process. The government will face legal challenges from lion breeders, claims for compensation, and a host of other actions which will delay the process. Government resolve will be tested, financial resources needed, and during the process there may be changes in government personnel which will lead to different views emerging.

Reactions to the announcement from the conservation, animal welfare, tourism and other sectors vary from euphoria to incredulity to pragmatism and cynicism. However, there was majority agreement that this surprise announcement might be the beginning of the end, although the end could be years away.

The Lions, Bones & Bullets team will closely monitor developments going forward, and through this web page will continue the investigative culture which was a guiding principle of the film. We will evaluate and interpret the events and provide our readers with balanced, fact-based, judgments.

Below we have included those excerpts of the Minister’s announcement which specifically relates to lions:

"The appointment of the Panel through the hosting in August 2018, of a Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding by the then Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs. This was attended by a range of national and international organisations who gave evidence to the committee. According to the report of the portfolio committee, which was later adopted by Parliament, there was a predominant view that the captive lion breeding industry did not contribute to conservation and was doing damage to South Africa’s conservation and tourism reputation.

"The portfolio committee, therefore, requested the department, as a matter of urgency, to initiate a policy and legislative review with a view to putting an end to this practice. Given that there were a number of other burning issues related to other iconic species such as rhino (escalating poaching, rhino horn trade), elephant (ivory trade), and leopard (threats such as illegal offtake of damage causing leopards, poorly managed trophy hunting, trade in leopard skin for religious and traditional use) the department decided to include these in the terms of reference of the Panel in order to get a holistic view of the pertinent issues.

"The report contains a clear vision, with 18 goals and 60 recommendations. I must say it is remarkable that a group of people with different views on the management of these iconic species was able to achieve consensus on all recommendations, except those recommendations that deal with captive lion and rhino breeding. In terms of captive lion and captive rhino breeding, where there were majority and minority recommendations, and having applied my mind, we will be adopting the majority recommendations on these issues.

"The panel identified that the captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry, and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade. The panel recommends that South Africa does not captive -breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially. I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation in implementation is conducted.

"It is important to stress that the recommendations are not against the hunting industry. Preventing the hunting of captive lions is in the interests of the authentic wild hunting industry, and will boost the hunting economy and our international reputation, and the jobs that this creates.

"In summary, I believe that the report provides a platform for not only achieving policy clarity, but also for the development of a new deal for people and wildlife in South Africa. Implementation of the recommendations will greatly transform the practices within the wildlife industry, enhance conservation of our environment and these species, invigorate the rural economies where the species occur or can be introduced, and empower traditional practices, leadership, and healers. Finally, implementing these recommendations will result in both protection and enhancement of South Africa’s international reputation, repositioning the country as an even more competitive destination of choice for ecotourism and responsible hunting."

Richard Peirce’s piece can be republished in part or whole in any medium provided Lions, Bones & Bullets is credited or/and a link to this article is published

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