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The state of captive lion breeding in South Africa and the Economics thereof”, by Dr Ross Harvey, econimist.

On the 22nd of October, economist Dr Ross
Harvey presented to the Portfolio Committee (PC) an analysis called “Bred
for the bullet: Why big cats should not be bred in captivity”, which was a
summary of the current state of the predator breeding industry in South Africa
in an effort to empower portfolio committee members to hold the Department of
Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) to account.

Present at the meeting Members of the PC
from different political parties included the Chairperson Mr Xasa, secretary Ms
Madubela, Ms Gantsho, Mr Bourne, Mr Lorimer, Ms Nomvula Mbatha, Ms Buyisile
Mchunu, Mr Modise, Mr Paulsen, Mr Singh, Ms Winkler, Mr Galo, Ms Weber and
members of the public and visitors.

The meeting was scheduled to update the new
PC on the latest developments regarding the industry of captive predators,
especially lions, after the 2018 Committee and the National Assembly resolved
that DEFF and the Minister should “review the current legislation with a
view to putting an end to this industry
”, a line that appears to have
subsequently been ignored.

The current Committee appeared very
concerned by the status of the industry, particularly in relation to facilities
being found with expired permits, not accredited or not complying with even
basic legislation. The PC was then introduced to the report “The Extinction
Business”, produced by the EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading (BAT) with extensive
evidence of criminal activities within South Africa’s ‘lion’ bone trade. This
evidence is ignored by the authorities. The Chair was disgusted by the evidence
of illicit trafficking by the hands of organized criminal syndicates. It was
revealed during the discussion that followed, for instance, that the last
seizure of 342 kg of lion bones saw the alleged smuggler being released on a R
3000 bail. More concerns were raised about the lack of precise data on the
number of facilities, locations and cats and the setting of possible future
quotas despite an increase of lion poaching in Mozambique. Dr Harvey emphasised
that South Africa’s non-detriment finding (NDF) that captive predator breeding
does not harm the survival prospects of wild lions within South Africa,
wild lions elsewhere are now in peril. This appears to be strongly connected to
South Africa’s legal endorsement of the bone trade.

Dr Harvey highlighted the importance of a
recent High Court Judgement, which declared the previous quotas in 2017 and
2018 to be “illegal and unconstitutional”. The same judgment was built on the
foundation of the 2016 Constitutional Court case which ruled that conservation
and welfare are intertwined values. In other words, there is no such thing as
conservation without welfare.

From an economic perspective, Dr Harvey
briefed the Committee that continuing with captive breeding comes at the
opportunity cost of ethical conservation, which in turn undermines eco-tourism
value. The destruction of our conservation reputation seems a large price to
pay for the sake of a handful of wealthy breeders and traders who support 600
direct jobs at best.

Members of the Committee highlighted that
the industry is beneficial to a very restricted number of individuals only and
questioned if South Africans should be allowed to own big cats in first palace.
Dr Harvey suggested that if just 80 of the currently known predator interaction
facilities were joined up to form larger and joined-up wilderness landscapes,
the resultant ecological system could support upwards of 600 jobs through

The Honourable Chair concluded he would engage with the Department and the Minister on the question of what progress had been made towards the phasing out the industry and what has been achieved so far.

To access the full transcription of this meeting click here: Update on state of captive lion breeding in South Africa