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On the 29th of August 2023 Michele Pickover, Executive Director of the EMS Foundation, addressed a letter to the Chairperson of the Captive Lion Industry Ministerial Task Team, Mr Kamalasen Chetty.

The content of the communication highlights the significant importance and the implications of the changes to NEM:BA. These implications include the fact that “wellbeing” now falls within the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment and Minister Barbara Creecy’s legal mandate.

Furthermore, as a result of these changes to NEM:BA, it was indicated in the legal opinion obtained by the EMS Foundation, competent for the Honourable Minister to:

  1. prohibit specific activities involving animals under section 9A on the basis that there is alreadyevidence that the activities impact negatively on wellbeing; and or
  2. publish a notice under section 9A prohibiting specific activities if there is reasonable evidenceto support the view that this may have a negative effect on wellbeing;
  3. make regulations relating to wellbeing of animals under section 97; and/or
  4. challenge decisions of conservation officials which constitute administrative action (such aspermitting decisions or the setting of quotas) on the basis that wellbeing is a relevant factor and has not been considered or on the basis that the decision would have a negative impact on wellbeing of an animal or animals.

Furthermore, Michele Pickover highlighted examples of some immediate actions that can be considered by the South African Government:

  1. announcing that no new permits to keep captive lions will be issued and existing permits willnot be renewed;
  2. amending the conditions in existing permits to protect the welfare of captive lions and torequire the sterilization of all captive lions; and
  3. setting a zero quota for the export of lion bones in order to remove the financial incentive tocircumvent the law. Allowing the industry to continue to kill lions for the trade in lion bones as a means of limiting the number of lions while government is closing down the industry should NOT be considered as this will be endorsing criminality and supporting the illegal wildlife trade. Research has clearly shown that the legal trade of lion bones is part of the illegal trade.
  4. conducting an independent forensic audit of all lions in captive breeding facilities and the industry as a whole; and
  5. developing a comprehensive national plan for dealing with the current captive lion population in way that is humane and promotes both the conservation of the species as a whole as well as the well-being of those animals as far as possible. It should be done in such a way that regulates people to create infrastructure for true sanctuaries, repurposes jobs and reskills workers. Government must collaborate with animal welfare and protection organisations, civil society and other stakeholders who have the skills to deal with animal welfare matters and repercussions. We already have a starting point. In 2009 an NGO Alliance Grouping (including the NSPCA) sent a proposal document to the Department outlining how to resolve the issues relating to this industry. This document was revisited and adapted by the EMS Foundation and two other organisations and sent through to the HLP and the Minister as a basic roadmap in 2020.

None of the above actions by Government involve the arbitrary deprivation of property nor unjustifiably infringe any individual’s right to property.

In conclusion, the EMS Foundation, is aware that the South African government is allowing a number of lions and other big cats to be imported into South Africa from captivity in Europe and elsewhere. Given the crisis of a huge number of lions and other big cats in South Africa it is their view that the NGOs that bring these big cats into ‘sanctuaries’ in South Africa should only be provided with permits on the understanding that for every lion/big cat that is imported they undertake to provide lifetime care to a South African captive lion/big cat in a spacious sanctuary.

Image Credit: EMS Foundation

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