A person was arrested on the OR Tambo Worldwide Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 23 June 2023 with 5 lion carcasses in his baggage. He was about to board a flight to Vietnam, the place the use of lion bones in conventional medicines is practised.
The seizure is commendable however highlights South Africa’s controversial authorized trade of breeding lions in captivity. Wildlife researchers Neil D’Cruze and Jennah Inexperienced, who have studied lion farming in South Africa, share their insights into the trade and clarify why it must be shut down.
Why are lions being farmed?
Lions have been intensively farmed for industrial functions in South Africa since the 1990s.
These wild animals are exploited as leisure sights for vacationers, like cub petting and “walk with lions” experiences. Others are used for “canned” trophy hunting, the place the lion is hunted in an enclosed house, with no likelihood of escape.
They’re additionally used for conventional drugs each in South Africa and internationally, the place their physique elements, significantly their bones, are exported to Asia. They’re used as substances in conventional Asian drugs, akin to “wines” and tonics. These would normally comprise tiger bone, however lion bones are being used as a substitute.
They’re additionally sold live.
What does the lion farming trade appear to be?
In accordance to official records in 2019, round 8,000 lions are being held in over 350 amenities in South Africa. In distinction, the present wild inhabitants within the nation is estimated to be about 3,500 lions.
The precise variety of lions and different species on industrial “lion farms” throughout South Africa, nonetheless, is unknown. The trade has never been fully audited and never all farms are formally registered. As well as, corruption and an absence of correct record-keeping make it troublesome for authorities to handle the trade and guarantee amenities adjust to the legislation.
How is the trade regulated?
A serious downside is how the lion farming trade is being regulated in South Africa.
At a nationwide degree, governance of this trade has fallen beneath a patchwork of laws together with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and rules round threatened or protected species. With nationwide and provincial concurrence, the regulation of the trade falls to the provincial nature conservation authorities.
However, as there isn’t a centralised nationwide system, transparency and enforcement is troublesome. This leads to gray areas that cloud the legality of the trade and its related actions, contributing to confusion and noncompliance throughout.
Likewise, at a global degree, lion bone exports are regulated beneath the Conference on Worldwide Commerce in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However the trade has been beneath scrutiny since 2019, when a high court in South Africa declared the lion bone export quota unconstitutional – due largely to animal welfare concerns.
Consequently, since that point, the CITES export quota has been deferred, leading to a “zero quota”. Which means lion skeletons can’t be legally exported for industrial functions. And any subsequent exports originating from lion farms are unlawful.
Why is that this trade an issue?
Lion farming in South Africa is controversial.
The trade has been estimated by some to contribute as much as R500 million (US$42 million) yearly to the South African financial system. Nonetheless, in 2021 a high level report compiled by related consultants (together with conventional leaders, lion farmers and scientists) highlighted that the trade posed a danger to public well being (due to the potential transmission of zoonotic disease and lion attacks), “doesn’t contribute meaningfully to the conservation of untamed lions”, and was tarnishing the nation’s status with “political and financial dangers”.
This led to the Division of Forestry, Fisheries and the Surroundings announcing its intention, which cupboard later adopted, to right away halt the “domestication and exploitation of lions, and to finally shut all captive lion amenities in South Africa”.
However nothing has modified. The captive breeding and canned looking of lions has continued.
What must be completed in regards to the trade?
The minister’s public announcement of South Africa’s intention to cease lion farming was a defining growth concerning this controversial trade and its future. Nonetheless, in late 2022, a ministerial task team was requested to “develop and implement a voluntary exit technique for captive lion amenities”. This was the primary time the phrase “voluntary” had been utilized in public authorities communications on this subject. It raised critical questions on whether or not the federal government was wavering in its said intention to finish industrial captive lion breeding.
It’s extremely uncertain whether or not a voluntary phasing out alone can halt the industrial exploitation of lions and set up a course of to shut lion farms as advisable within the excessive degree panel report. As an alternative, it ought to solely be thought of as an preliminary step. There should be a strategy which features a obligatory time sure termination of the lion farming trade in its entirety.
Till then, to assist enforcement companies and their efforts, lion farms must be required to cease breeding extra lions and cease their canned looking operations.
Neil D’Cruze, International Head of Wildlife Analysis, World Animal Safety, and Visiting Researcher, Wildlife Conservation Analysis Unit (WildCRU), College of Oxford
Jennah Green, Wildlife Analysis Supervisor at World Animal Safety, and Visiting Analysis Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan College