Lion breeding in South Africa and trade in products such as their bones should be ended and the country won’t lobby for the lifting of global restrictions on the rhino horn and elephant ivory trade, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said.
Still, the country should position itself as a destination for hunting of some of the world’s most iconic animals, she said at the release of the High Level Panel report on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros on Sunday.
The recommendations of the panel show the difficult path South Africa, cognizant of its role as guardian of some of the world’s most important populations of endangered animals, is treading in a country where many of those animals are held and owned on private land.
“We fully understand that the breeders will have things to say,” Creecy said, promising consultations after an unidentified member of the audience interjected at the end of the meeting to say that the recommendations adopted would lead to the destruction of the species the government seeks to protect. “No change in policy can be made in a democracy without the participation of those affected,” she said.
While the country has been vocal in the global fight to halt the trade of rhino horn and elephant ivory, it had also attracted criticism for allowing the breeding of lions for hunting and the sale of their bones to East Asia where they are believed to have medicinal properties. Private rhino owners, who own the bulk of the country’s rhinos, have lobbied for the resumption of legal horn trade to fund the costs associated with protecting their animals against poaching.
While the majority of the 25-member panel recommended ending lion breeding and placing curbs on the keeping of captive rhinos, some members dissented and there was also disagreement on the controls on rhino breeding. Creecy said she had decided to adopt the majority view.
South Africa is home to almost all of the world’s remaining rhinos and has key populations of elephants, lions and leopards. Hunting of all these animals is permitted under strict controls and generates significant revenue for the country as it attracts sport hunters mainly from the U.S.
“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,” Creecy said. In addition there is a “negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry and the risk the trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and the illegal trade.”
South Africa’s trophy hunting industry generates about 5 billion rand ($345 million) annually, according to a paper released by researchers at South Africa’s North-West University in 2018. The ecotourism industry forms a key part of the country’s tourism trade, which makes up about 7% of the economy.
Breeding of lion cubs to be petted by tourists at safari parks will also be stopped, she said.
A call and email to the South African Predator Association, which represents captive lion breeders and hunters, were not immediately responded to.
The panel also had to consider a number of other issues such as the use of animal products, such as leopard skins, in traditional practices and the killing of leopards that prey on livestock, she said.
A policy paper on the recommendations for public comment will be released within about two weeks, Creecy said. That’s a key step toward enacting legislation.