NSPCA heads for court to halt trade in lion skeletons

The National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) has applied for an urgent interdict in an attempt to stop the South African government from facilitating selling lion bones used in fake tiger bone wine and other questionable purposes.

The lion bone trade is the ugly side of the already discredited canned lion hunting industry. According to the interdict applied for against the Minister of Environmental Affairs, it is leading to horrendous welfare violations of an iconic species.

In mid last year, the NSPCA filed notice to set aside the export quota of 800 lion skeletons. Before this could be reviewed, the minister upped the annual quota for 2018 to 1,500. There are now reports of lion slaughter houses being set up to service the demand from Asian buyers.

The NSPCA says cruelty to lions is an inevitable consequence of the DEA’s (Department of Environmental Affairs) misguided actions and is therefore “committed to fighting this decision in court to protect the lions of South Africa”. It has gut-wrenching photographs to back its case.

In the interdict, it says there’s currently no legislation in SA that regulates the keeping and slaughtering of lions. It points out that by fostering the trade in lion skeletons, the DEA is threatening the existence of wild lions in Africa by expanding a market which poachers will exploit.

“With trophy hunting of lions,” it says, “the lions are required to be in good condition. This is not the case with the lion bone trade. There’s no economic incentive for breeders of captive-bred lions to ensure that their lions are appropriately fed and maintained in a good condition, since all that is required is an adult lion skeleton”.

With increasing international opprobrium for canned lion hunting and subsequent bans on trophy imports, breeders are switching to the bone trade as their primary business. From reports and photographs of breeding facilities – mainly in the Free State and North West – there is growing evidence that breeders are spending as little as possible on lion upkeep in order to maximise profits.

Increased skeleton export quotas, says the interdict, means increased levels of cruelty and the likelihood of the legal trade providing cover for poached wild lions.

There are around 8,000 lions in captivity in South Africa and 3,000 wild lions. “If the 2018 quota (which is half the number of wild lions) results in a spike in poaching of wild lions – a danger which the DEA simply cannot on its available data say is not likely – the wild lion population could be decimated to levels that put the survival of the species at risk.”

The DEA continues to insist that the welfare of captive-bred lions is not its responsibility and abrogates this responsibility to the NSPCA, which is the only organisation legally mandated to ensure the welfare of animals and prevent cruelty to them. However, the organisation already stretched too thin in terms of staff and finances and does not receive government funding.

The NSPCA claims the country is “sitting on a ticking time bomb” in relation to the welfare of both wild and captive-bred lions. It points out that the DEA is required by law to determine the lion bone quota only in circumstances where it has determined that there is a proper scientific basis for doing so and after a proper public consultation process. Neither of these requirements have been met.

It says there is no evidence that the regulated lion skeleton trade serves as a buffer for wild lion populations. “Rather, the science … points in the other direction … it is likely to fuel demand.”

It adds that “there is no reliable evidence to establish that interdicting the export of lion bone will cause harm to the South African economy. On the other hand, the evidence suggests that the captive-bred lion industry is harming the South African (tourism) economy and costing it revenue and jobs”.

Captive-bred lions, says NSPCA head Marcelle Meredith, have no conservation value: “You cannot teach a captive lion to hunt. Only wild lions can teach their young to hunt and survive in the wild. Savannah ecosystems depend on super-predators like lion to maintain their essential balance. We can’t replace them with animals bred in captivity.

“We have to look after our wild lions for all that they represent to South Africa, appreciating the terrible truth that once they are gone, they are gone forever.”

Following a two-day Parliamentary colloquium on captive and hunted lions in August this year, the chairperson of Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, Philemon Mapulane, said the breeding of lions in captivity for purposes of hunting, lion bone and lion skeleton trade was “the most controversial subject in the conservation industry”. He expressed his personal distaste for the activity. The issue, he said, “will be followed up by the committee with the sheer tenacity of a hungry lion chasing its prey”.

After the colloquium, 24 conservation organisations sent a letter to the Portfolio Committee calling for trade in lion bones from South Africa be immediately prohibited.

“Furthermore, all facilities must immediately cease the breeding of lions for commercial purposes. We propose a phased-out approach to the closing down of the captive lion industry to accommodate current pregnant females.”

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The NSPCA has huge animal welfare concerns for the animals exploited in the captive predator and canned hunting industry in South Africa. This industry is unregulated, uncontrolled and is responsible for untold cruelty. It is a tragedy that our wild animals are reduced to profit making machines. Coupled with this members of public are unwittingly encouraging and supporting this cruelty, so it is vital that the public are aware of the truth behind the industry so they can make informed decisions and hopefully choose not to support such an unethical industry.

Sr.Ainsley Hay, Manager, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit

Breeding magnificent wild creatures like lions in camps so that they can be slaughtered for ego and money is unconscionable and should be outlawed.  Lions have the right to live in the wild and to continue playing their unique role within the ecological communities of Africa.  The continued existence of the canned hunting industry is a moral outrage that diminishes us all.  This important film shines a light into the dark corners of this ugly business.

Cormac Cullinan, Cullinan & Associates Incorporated

Cruel, barbaric, macabre – all words used by Australian MPs about lion farming and the canned lion hunting industry in SA.  Our campaign was glad to be able to assist and participate in a full length documentary that aims to expose a brutal industry whose whole business model is routine, egregious cruelty to helpless animals – for fun.

Chris Mercer, Founder, CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)

Captive lions have long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape and their tragic story needed to be exposed before these practices negatively impacted on Brand South Africa. Congratulations to all involved in taking the time and making this happen.

Colin Bell, Tourism consultant and author of “Africa’s Finest”

“As a travel and conservation based organization, we find the “Blood Lions” documentary deeply disturbing. Despite being hard to watch, we urge people to get out there and see it. It is important to shed light on the dark and corrupt business of rearing lions for the purposes of hunting, in hopes of making a positive change. As we polled our membership, we found that individually each of our companies have chosen to stop booking all activities that contribute to this industry.”

The Safari Professionals – 30 Tour Operators based in the US and Canada

South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred, raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis. The canned hunting industry is unnatural, unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that, far from contributing to the future survival of the species, may, in fact, accelerate extinction in the wild, leaving behind a trail  littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims.

Will Travers OBE, President Born Free Foundation

The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, in providing support for the making of this Documentary, does so in the firm belief that it is important that the true facts behind captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa, is brought to the attention of a global audience in order to create awareness which in turn will lead to much needed change.

Les Ward MBE, Chairman, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust

This is a timely, courageous as well as a deeply disturbing documentary. It is at the same time, a voice for the wild and the voiceless … of saying “NO MORE!” to that terrible triad of financial opportunism, deceit and indifference to the non-human animal by those claiming to be conservationists.

Ian McCallum – Author, poet, psychiatrist and naturalist

With the constant pressure on wildlife, every effort must be made to keep our last vestiges of natural fauna and flora protected.    Canned hunting of any kind, along with the related consequences, must be condemned by humanity as not only a travesty of nature but also an utterly inhumane practise.   Taming lion cubs only to later hunt them is an utterly inhumane practice.   It is pseudo-hunting, a complete sham and does not even qualify as hunting on a sustainable use basis.   Wildlife conservation has to evolve into practices that are ethical, humanitarian and sustainable. This will not be achieved if there is not real and fair community involvement which has not been part of the hunting fraternity’s evolution.

Yvette Taylor, Executive Director, The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation

“Canned lion ‘hunting’ is nothing less than a bargain basement opportunity for foreign hunters to engage in one of South Africa’s most sordid practices. Hunting of captive bred lions entirely dependent on human fingerprints from cub to trophy is immoral, unethical and against all animal welfare concerns. The fact that it still continues as profitable commerce is a damning statement against all of us who have not properly engaged to snuff it out. Blood Lions is a good start to bring change.”

Dr Pieter Kat – Director: LionAid

Canned Lion