800 Skeletons – ‘Captive’ Lion Export Quota Approved

Stephen Wiggins Article 3 Comments

Banner image: Courtesy of Africa Geographic

So, the Republic of South Africa, Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has decided to push on with the proposed “800 skeletons” – “captive produced lion bone trade under the quota system.”

This was inevitable after  the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, CoP 17) secretive meeting in October 2016, that a ‘legal’ trade in commercially bred (‘canned’) captive lions will be allowed to perpetuate:

“Annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa will be established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat” – South Africa alone legally exported 1,200 skeletons – 11 tonnes of bones – between 2008 and 2011, the latest figures available reveal.

The DEA’s “800 skeletons” quota raises a number of pre-existing questions that have yet to be (publically) answered by the DEA – The DEA’s 28 June 2017 media statement refers to:

“a stakeholder engagement session held in January 2017 [by ]the Department, the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the provincial conservation departments shared information relating to the proposed export quota for lion bones.”

“Stakeholders present included the South African Predator Breeders Association, lion bone traders, hunting organisations, lion bone traders [again?], non-governmental organisations, private individuals and the media.”

Where is the public/media presentation of why “800 skeletons” and the perceived impact on the species?

Where has this “800” figure been derived from as meeting South Africa’s National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) which states that the African lion (Panthera leo) is a “Protected Species” – hence:

NEMBA, Chapter 4, Part 2 applies (“Listing of species that are threatened or in need of national protection”) section 56.(1)(d). – “protected species, being any species which are of such high conservation value or national importance that they require national protection…

Furthermore , NEMBA, Chapter 4, Part 2 applies (“Restricted activities involving listed threatened  or protected species”) section 57.(2)(a) States that the Minister may prohibit any activity “which  is of a  nature that may  negatively  impact  on  the  survival of a  listed threatened or protected species without a permit issued in terms of Chapter 7” (“Permits”).

Before issuing Permits i.a.w NEMBA Chapter 7, where is the DEA’s publically available evidence that the proposed “800 skeletons” – “captive produced lion bone trade under the quota system” will not negatively impact on the survival of Panthera leo, a “Protected Species?” If the science to back the announcement is indeed available, then why is it not made public in the DEA’s 28 June 2017 media statement?

In addition, CITES Article IV states” ………an export permit shall only be granted for an Appendix II species [The African lion is currently Appendix II listed] when a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species” –  (as acknowledged in the DEA’s statement, 28 June 2017)

Where is the referenced ‘advice’ for public scrutiny to see what the (SANBI?) Scientific Authority of the State’s required ‘opinion/advice’ (assuming it exists) is based upon to say “such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species?” Is the ‘advice’ based on a belief and hope in a theory, or real data based science that will pass independent scientific scrutiny, or does the ‘advice’ not exist?

The DEA states that the SANBI “….will investigate how the trade in captive produced lion bone under a quota system affects wild lion populations, and will further strengthen the evidence base for the annual review of the quota in order to ensure it is sustainable and not detrimental to wild populations.” So, if an ongoing SANBI study is needed to assess the trade is not detrimental to the species, how can any current advice ‘know’ “…such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species” as required by CITES? There is a clear contradiction/opaqueness in the DEA’s statement

Where is the DNA database for all captive bred lions?

Where is the current DNA database for all ‘captive’ lions held within South Africa that could help guarantee only ‘captive,’ not wild lions are included in any given shipment under the proposed “800 skeletons” – “captive produced lion bone trade under the quota system?”  Only taking a DNA sample at “source” (as proposed by the DEA) upon packing a consignment is hardly a comprehensive, fool proof approach that eliminates any possibly of corruption at some weak spot within the quota system.

The proposed quota ‘system’ includes the vetting at random of lion skeleton shipments for DNA compliance, ie. does the randomly taken consignment sample match the DNA sample taken at “source” when packed? There is no proposal for a comprehensive DNA database of all ‘captive’ lions that will prove the “source” was ‘captive’ in the first place, or otherwise.

Of course, the ‘industry’ will say only Permits can be issued to ‘captive’ lion breeders within a given Province, thus ensuring a consignment originated from a ‘captive’ source. But this assumes all lion breeders have the same ‘scruples’ and do not supplement their stock from the wild (which has been alleged in the past to help diversify the ‘captive’ gene pool). How can a Province authority assess an application and determine if all lion skeletons were sourced from ‘captive’ lions if there is no pre-existing DNA database?  The lion breeders will say why would we take the risk etc., but that does not mean the risk does not exist – no one can tell the difference between ‘captive’ or ‘wild’ lion bones at any given “source.

In order for the DEA’s proposed DNA samples of shipments to be of value, then the entire captive lion population needs to be pre-emptively, independently DNA sampled, catalogued and managed on a database that can be scrutinised.

Management of the quota

How will the proposed quota be filled? By the issuing of Permits at “Provincial level” based upon a given Province authority’s assessment of an application apparently. How will the quota system ensure acceptable animal welfare standards of the ‘captive’ lions bred for their bones? The current ‘oversight’ of all captive breeding facilities is not comprehensive or transparent at present (Ref: Africa Geographic, “Photos emerge of malnourished lions on breeding farm,” 8 July 2016)

So how will the DEA and the Provinces ensure the quota system does not result in masses of emaciated and poorly kept lions, being held captive with minimal standards to maximise speculative profiteering for their skeletons?

Transparency and reputational damage to brand South Africa

How can any exploitation of the African lion as a commodity on a production line be deemed a “reasonable” use of natural resources in accordance with the South African Constitution (Section 24) to “promote conservation” and “sustainable…..use of natural resources” if there is no publically available scientific backing for the proposed ‘captive’ lion skeleton quota system?

The decision on the annual export quota was reached following an extensive stakeholder consultation process during which the Department considered all variables, including scientific best practice. It cannot be said, therefore that this determination was made arbitrarily or in a non-transparent manner,” says Minister of Environmental Affairs Dr Edna Molewa.

The stakeholder consultation was not “extensive” (Update: the window for public comments given was just two weeks,  25 January – 2 February 2017 – there has been no response to IWB’s submission, dated 27 January 2017) and seemingly ignored any legitimate concerns raised, or else there would be more answers available publically. In the absence of answers, it can still be said that “this determination” was made arbitrarily in a non-transparent manner.

Dr Edna Molewa is under the delusion that the reputational damaged being caused to South Africa is all someone else’s fault:

Edna Molewa, the South African Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), admonishes conservationists to “put the lid on” what she believes are unfounded claims of canned lion hunting in South Africa that are “damaging our reputation for species conservation” – Daily Maverick, “Playing with words while captive lions die

I would suggest South Africa’s reputation for on-going pandering to animal exploitation for profit, seeking to legitimising nonsensical demand for wildlife parts is the cause of any acknowledged loss of credibility and subsequent reputational deterioration of brand South Africa.

Further Reading

Will SA’s estimated 7 000 canned lions all end up this way?,” Traveller24, 28 June 2016

“According to a Conservation Action Trust report, in 2016, according to Panthera, 90% of lion carcasses found in the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique all had their skulls, teeth, and claws removed while rates of poisoning lions specifically for bones increased dramatically in Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique. In Namibia, 42% of lions killed in the Caprivi had their skeletons removed.

According to wildlife investigator, Karl Amann, the trade is fueling the demand in Asia. The south-east Asian country now dominates the lion-bone market.

Amann says the CITES trade data base shows that  between 2009 and 2015 Laos has bought over 2000 complete lion skeletons from South Africa. This excludes the 2 300 bones and 40 skulls sold separately as incomplete skeletons”

Lion bones arrive in Laos but are then illegally exported to Vietnam without the requisite CITES export permits. Here they are boiled down, compacted into a cake bar and sold at a price of around US$1000 (currently R12 830 – R12.83/$) to consumers who add it to rice wine.

“The DEA’s move is widely regarded as open support for the controversial practice of canned lion hunting. A captive lion breeder – one of 300 in South Africa – can be paid anywhere from US$5000 (R64 150) to US$25 000 (R320 750) for each lion permitted to be shot. Now they can add an additional $1500 (R19 245) per skeleton permitted to be sold to Laotian buyers.””

There is significant evidence that South Africa’s legal trade in captive-bred lion trophies is accelerating the slaughter of wild lions for their parts in neighbouring countries and is, in fact, increasing demand for wild lion parts in Asia — a market that did not exist before South Africa started exporting lion bones in 2007.”

Endangered Wildlife Trust Response to the Department of Environmental Affairs Announcement of a Captive Lion Bone Export Quota of 800 Carcasses,” Endangered Wildlife Trust, 29 June 2017

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