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Media Release from Members Of The Wildlife Animal Protection Forum South Africa (WAPFSA)

The recent news release of 342 kg of lion
bones discovered on an outbound flight at OR Tambo Airport on 1st
October 2019 which was subsequentially confiscated, has had extensive media

The comment from the Director of
Communications at the Department of Environmental Affairs, Albi Modise was that
“although the export of lion bones born in captivity was legal, a special
permit was required to send them out.” This statement was reported by a number
of media outlets, including World News, The Straits Times, BBC News, EWN, MSN,
Business Standard, 7D News, and This is Money UK, Getaway, Jacaranda FM, and

The export of lion bones from South Africa
is currently illegal. In order to be legal, a yearly quota is supposed to be
proposed by the South African Scientific Authority including the South African
National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) through the National Convention on the
international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Management Authority, then approved and communicated to all provincial
conservation departments and managed at National level under the authority of
the Minister of Forestry and Fishery and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy.

Malepo Phoshoko at
the CITES Policy Development and Implementation confirmed in an email to EMS
Foundation (WAPFSA Member) on 30 September 2019 that “No quota for 2019 has
been determined”.

As no quota has been established, it therefore
implies that the exporting of lion bones cannot occur and as such no permits
can be issued under any circumstances.

In 2017, the lion skeleton export quota
system was introduced for the first time, as an attempt to regulate the
uncontrolled export of lion bones. It was discovered that skeletons or parts of
other species, even those listed on Appendix 1 (CITES) were being shipped out
of South Africa as “lion” bones; this smuggling activity included that more
skeletons were exported on a single permit.

Attending a Parliament colloquium in
August 2018, members of WAPFSA, along with other organisations, presented
documents and reports to the Environment Portfolio Committee. This two-day
consultation and the overwhelming depositions against the industry, resulted in
the Portfolio Committee Chair – the Honourable Philemon Mapulane – releasing
his recommendations to the Department “To put an end to this

Thereafter, on August the 6th
2019, a judgment following a NSPCA court case concluded that the quotas of 2017
and 2018 were “unlawful and unconstitutional”.

The export of lion bones has many
significant loopholes as follows:

bones are being exported as “trophies,” yet they were bones that were being
used for human consumption, so should have been labelled as “food”, which is a
different permit.

can been seen in the many pictures of the bones in the 1st October seizure at
OR Tambo Airport, the bones still have flesh attached, so therefore they should
fall under the Food Safety Act 2000 and must comply with the South African Food
Export Legislation, which again is a different permit.

Lions are
not included on the list of meats suitable for human consumption in the Food
Safety Act 2000 nor in the “Meat and Animal Product Export Procedures, South

to the advanced and strict laws regarding the slaughtering procedures and food
processing for food export from South Africa, and that no 2019 lion bone quota
has been released, it is clear that the lion bones discovered at OR Tambo on
the 1st October are an illegal export.

Furthermore, bones might carry a number of
diseases of which they are not tested for; they might even contain traces of
teratogenic sedatives used during the slaughter procedures, if the lions are
immobilised first. These substances are highly toxic for humans and no studies
have been conducted to verify what percentage can safely be ingested
indirectly, through the bones and meat, so it is more than likely that these
exports might be very harmful to human health.

Between June and July 2019, a number of
emails were sent by EMS Foundation to the Veterinary Association, the Health
Department, the Agriculture and the Environmental Departments in order to
clarify why the bones were never exported under the “food” category label as
they will be used for human consumption. The Veterinary Association confirmed
the risks of consuming bones and meat which might be contaminated with
Tuberculosis and medicines; the departments of Agriculture and Environment
shifted responsibility but both avoided confirming the legality of the
shipment, while the Health Department did not reply despite multiple attempts to

In June 2019, a stakeholders meeting was
convened supposedly to establish if a quota for 2019 could be approved. SANBI
made it very clear: where a quota is established, the export of lion bones has
to be one full skeleton per permit, rather than loose bones which would allow
e.g. tiger and leopard bones to be smuggled out as lion bones. DNA testing
would result in clarifying whether the bones are indeed lion bones and not
leopard or tiger bones. However, this DNA testing is not an “on the spot”. The
October seizure is also irregular also in this regard since all the recovered
bones were loose.

A lion skeleton weighs an average of
10-12kg, and from the weight of the seizure, one can assume that between 30 and
35 lions and / or big cats were slaughtered. A recent census in early 2019 was
conducted by the Department to count lion farms across the country and to
establish how many lions are farmed in total and in which provinces. Therefore,
following this census, it should not be difficult to determine from which
farm/farms these lions came from and why they were slaughtered, the bones and
meat dried and processed and packed to be exported illegally. Despite the
Department’s assurances of a well-regulated system, this latest seizure
demonstrates the contrary  as there are no permits and neither can there
be, as the mere issuance of the permit would be illegal.

WAPFSA Members are available to supply
documents and correspondence in light of the court case held in Kempton Park
Magistrate’s Court in mid-October.

For further information, please contact Stefania Falcon (email: stefania@emsfoundation.org.za) at the EMS Foundation on behalf of the WAPFSA Network.

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