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South Africa’s reputation is at risk of damage, this has been a core concern of the Portfolio Committee on the Environment, the experts of the High-Level Panel and of Minister Creecy.

The captive lion industry encompasses everything from cub-petting attractions to the sale of lion bones. The EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading have repeatedly called for a moratorium on the continued breeding of lions in the captive lion industry for good reason. Apart from our report on the Captive Big Cat Industry in South Africa, we have shown that the legal and the illegal trade are considered functionally inseparable and have highlighted the other derivative trade which is the problematic legal live wildlife trade. Two weeks after this 2020 report, called Breaking Point, was published, Minister Creecy held a meeting with us and promised to investigate the allegations of misgovernance.

Ban Animal Trading and the EMS Foundation have received irrefutable information from Iraq that six lion cubs arrived at Duhok Zoo in the Kurdistan region of Iraq from the Free State Province of South Africa in mid-May 2021−and this within days of the Honourable Minister’s public acceptance of the High Level Panel recommendation that South Africa will not “captive breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially”.

These South African lion cubs (lion cubs stay with their mothers for a period of two years in the wild) were intensively bred for the purpose of commercial gain. The cubs were exported to a zoo which has been described in published reports by visitors as a “very sad place,” “cages of concrete,” “animals are not taken care of, always look hungry and lethargic,” and “this is one of those places you wished you never been to, because the situation is so bad, the animals live in small cages and horrible conditions, there are no professional zoo keepers, the zoo should be shut down.”

Zoos in the Kurdistan region of Iraq are notorious for keeping animals in poor conditions and the Duhok zoo has sold lion cubs to zoos across Iraq after ‘taming’ them. Duhok zoo’s Instagram page proudly displays the conditions in which the lions and other animals are kept, as well as the petting of lion cubs. Damning reports of injuries from lions to visitors to this zoo in Iraq, as well as reports from owners of lions sold from the zoo being unable to care for their “tamed” pets, have been published.

Exporters and importers of wild animals circumvent CITES regulations and the South African government can no longer simply defer to CITES with regard to its export of wild animals.

Despite the acknowledgement by political leaders, and a high level panel of experts, of the importance of reputation for future conservation success, nonetheless the international damage to South Africa’s reputation is allowed to continue unabated.

The letter was signed by Michele Pickover and Smaragda Louw.

Image Credit: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna37372231

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