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Our main themes that guided our comments were:

The Draft Policy (and the proposed National Biodiversity Policy) should respond to the urgent need for transformational changes in order to achieve the vision of living in Harmony with Nature adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (“IPBES”) defines transformative change “as a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.” Our primary point of departure is that a fundamental paradigm shift in human beings’ relationship with nature must occur if we are to reverse the catastrophic decline in biodiversity. The policy objectives and outcomes of the Draft Policy should be informed by this perspective.

Humanity has overstepped the planetary boundary in respect of biological diversity and consequently has entered a “danger zone” where it will be negatively affected by sudden events (e.g. pandemics) and irreversible changes. Part of the reason is that we have collectively failed to value the ecological systems (and the individuals that comprise them) on which our survival ultimately depends. Instead of conserving that which has been entrusted to us, we have over-exploited terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

The trade, sale and hunting of South Africa’s wild animals is driven by commodification, commercialisation and profit rather than by robust science, ethics or compassion and does not factor in the likely effects of climate change. The threats wild animals are facing are powerfully linked to South Africa’s current conservation policies of consumptive use and inadequate policing and enforcement measures.

We are of the view that a new approach to human beings’ relationship with Nature is not only warranted, but is absolutely critical. Current legal frameworks are not succeeding in stemming the tide of rapid biodiversity decline. What is required is a complete overhaul of the legal and administrative system, and a change in the relationship between people and Nature. There is now little value in developing biodiversity-related policies and laws that aim to achieve gradual, incremental changes because they will not achieve the rapid, transformational change that is needed to reverse biodiversity losses. Boldness is imperative and time is limited.

In relation to our call for Harmonious co-existence and ecologically sustainable use:
1. We appreciate and commend the Department on the significant progress reflected in the proposal in the Draft Policy for an expanded understanding of “sustainable use” that that is more aligned with the principle of ecologically sustainable use in section 24 of the Constitution. However, we believe that the Draft Policy (and the proposed National Biodiversity Policy) must go further. For example, in our view:

1.1 elements of the definition of “sustainable use” and use of certain exploitative terminology still perpetuate a utilitarian perception of wildlife; and

1.2 despite the progress made regarding the proposed abolition of harmful ecologically unsustainable practices, the application of “sustainable use” as envisaged by the Draft Policy, is inconsistent with the duty to promoted conservation in section 24 of the Constitution.

  1. As long as “use” of wildlife is the overarching principle guiding how humans relate to other species, it will not be possible to achieve transformation change. What is necessary is a transition away from current principles of “sustainable use” which view wild animals in relation to their use value to humans.
  2. The Draft Policy presents a critical opportunity to introduce the paradigm shift necessary to transition away from principles of “sustainable use” altogether, towards harmonious coexistence between people and Nature and to align it with an integrative interpretation of section 24 of the Constitution. It must be further developed with the need to achieve rapid, transformation change, in mind.

In addition we called for the elimination of trophy hunting:
We oppose the proposed trophy hunting of leopards. Animals of the five species should not be killed without adequate justification (e.g. when there is no less harmful means of protecting the best interests of the group, or population). In our view, selecting individuals and killing them to gratify the ego of a hunter who wants a trophy, is not an adequate justification.

It is not in the best interest of the animals concerned, the species, or the ecological communities within which they play important roles. It is contrary to the ethos of conservation, undermines efforts to enhance people’s respect for Nature, and is inconsistent with indigenous African values that will be important in promoting the necessary transformation of human/ wildlife relationships in South Africa.

We also identified matters that are not addressed in the Draft Policy but which we believe should be included in the final version of the policy, namely: a transformative vision of harmonious co-existence, provision for a transparent, accountable, permitting system, provision for enhanced enforcement capacity, and provision for reducing domestic and international demand for the body parts of these species.

Briefly, therefore, in our view, this means that the Draft Policy should be revised:
1. by changing some of the definitions to align with an eco-centric approach;
2. to include principles;
3. to prohibit of all uses of the five species that cannot be justified as being the best interests of those species, the individual animals affected, and the ecosystems to which they below, including trophy hunting, any trade in their body parts, and any trade in live animals (other than for conservation purposes);

4. to include policy outcomes that facilitate greater enforcement of laws relevant to the conservation of the iconic species in general, and biodiversity in particular; and

5. to include policy objectives that promote a transparent and accountable permitting system.

It has also come to our notice that various individuals and groups who are involved in commercial enterprises based on the use of wildlife have publicly attacked the Draft Policy in highly emotive terms.

They allege (among other things) that the Draft Policy is unconstitutional and that:

This policy should be repealed in its entirety and DFFE should engage with those who truly, already conserve, protect and provide wildlife habitat for these species and so many others. The Department should refrain from trying to appease animal welfare organizations that benefit from emotional terrorism and extort from well-meaning people their hard-earned income whilst spinning a lie about any meaningful conservation initiatives.

We, and the many other organizations and individuals that support the need for transformative change in human-wildlife relationships and how they are governed, will engage with these misguided responses in the public domain, in due course. However, in the interim we support the willingness of the Minister and the Department to make meaningful and necessary policy changes despite the vociferous objections of groups with vested interests in maintaining the status quo and extending the commercial exploitation of wildlife, primarily for their own financial benefit.

We recognise that these parties are seeking to tear down a straw man that they have created by misrepresenting the content and implications of the Draft Policy and consequently most of their objections are misleading and inaccurate. For example, contrary to what they allege:

  • the Draft Policy does not propose the “expropriation” of private property and that the suggestionsthat it does amounts to deliberately misleading people;
  • the extent to which the Department has or has not been successful in protecting water and air quality is not relevant to this particular Draft Policy (i.e. is a red herring);
  • the Draft Policy does not propose removing rhinos from the ownership/ custody of private landowners (and even in terms of what we are proposing, they would still be recognised as custodians of those rhinos); and
  • most of their criticisms of what the Draft Policy does not do are misplaced because the issues that they refer to are beyond the scope of the Draft Policy and should be dealt with in the proposed national Biodiversity Policy.Our submission and comments were also endorsed by the following organisations: African Climate Alliance
    Animal Talk Africa
    Baboon Matters
    Baboons of the South
    Ban Animal Trading
    Beauty Without Cruelty (South Africa)
    Betty’s Bay Baboon Action Group
    Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education (CARE) Four Paws (SA)Future 4 Wildlife
    Gifted for Good
    Global White Lion Protection Trust
    Institute for Critical Animal Studies (Africa)
    Monkey Helpline
    OSCAP-Outraged SAfrican Citizens Against Poaching Parliament for the People
    Rhinos in Africa
    South Peninsula Khoi Council
    Southern African Fight for Rhinos
    Vervet Monkey Foundation
    WildAid Southern Africa
    Youth Climate Group


Michele Pickover
EMS Foundation

Cormac Cullinan
Wild Law Institute

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