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The High-Level Panel of Experts Report 2020

On Sunday the 2nd of May 2021, Minister of Environment, Barbara Creecy, released the High-Level Panel of Expert’s Report, which contains recommendations in relation to policies and regulations on the hunting, trade, captive keeping, management and handling of elephants, lions, leopards, and rhinos in South Africa.  

After the EMS Foundation/Ban Animal Trading publication of The Extinction Business: South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade in July 2018 was sent to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs (PPCEA),  the Committee took the decision to hold a Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: harming or promoting the conservation image of the country on the 21st  and 22nd August 2018. Presentations to the Committee were made by animal protection organisations and the breeding and trophy hunting industries. On the 8th November 2018 the Committee’s Report was tabled and it clearly stated that the captive lion breeding and hunting industry did not contribute to the conservation of lions and that the industry was damaging South Africa’s conservation and tourism reputation. The Portfolio Committee instructed that the Department initiate a review of policy and legislation in order to stop the captive lion industry. 

To this end, on the 25th February 2019, the Minister gazette the Notice of intention to appoint a high-level panel for review of policies on matters related to management of elephant, lion, leopard, etc. On the 10th October 2019 Minister Creecy gazette the establishmentof the High Level Panel.  A report by this Panel was submitted to the Minister in December 2020, the report was accepted by Cabinet in March 2021.  

On Sunday 2nd May 2021 Minister Creecy announced that: “the Panel envisages secured, restored, and rewilded natural landscapes with thriving populations of elephant, lion, rhino and leopard as indicators for a vibrant, responsible, inclusive, transformed and sustainable wildlife sector”. Minister Creecy, in an interview with Stephen Grootes on SAFM on the 4th May, also said that South Africa is moving away from from domestication and agricultutrisation of wild animals –  a practice that has brought us into conservation, environmental and tourism disrepute internationally. 


In our statement, today,  the EMS Foundation concentrates on one of the recommendations of the High-Level Panel“The ending of certain inhumane and irresponsible practices that greatly harm the reputation of South Africa and position of South Africa as a leader in conservation. 

The captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly. The panel recommends that South Africa does not captive breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.”

Minister Creecy has requested that the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Environment (DFFE) action this recommendation to ensure that the necessary consultation for implementation is conducted.

The EMS Foundation has been actively lobbying government on this issue since its inception in 2014. On the 27th of March 2020, the High-Level Panel of Experts, publicly requested written submissions to be made in respect of the management, breeding, hunting, trade, handling and related matters of elephant, lion, leopard, and rhino. On the 15th June 2020 the EMS Foundation and Animal Law Reform South Africa made a submission to the panel of experts, as did sixty-nine other organizations and individuals.  

On the 6th of October the EMS Foundation and Animal Law Reform South Africa made oral submissions and answered questions from the High Level Panel of Experts with a number of other organizations.

Further written questions were communicated to the EMS Foundation and Animal Law Reform South Africa on the 20th of October and these were extensively answered on the 2nd November 2020. 

A Basic Framework for the Resolution of Issues Relating to the Commercial Captive Breeding of Lions and Other Big Cats in South Africa 

The captive bred lion industry was originally exposed and highlighted in 1997 by the Cook Report.  Three successive environmental Ministers in South Africa made undertakings to investigate the industry, these include Dr Pallo Jordan, Mr Valli Moosa and Mr Marthinus van Schalkwyk.  While this industry continued to expand it has continued to attract worldwide, negative attention and criticism. 

In November 2020, the EMS Foundation, Humane Society International-Africa and Blood Lions submitted to the High Level Panel a basic framework for the resolution of issues relating to the commercial captive breeding of lions and other big cats in South Africa. 

These are the key points, in relation to this issue, that the EMS Foundation and Animal Law Reform made in October 2020 to the High Level Panel, these are some of the examples of immediate actions that can be taken by the South African government:

  • Announce that no new permits to keep captive lions will be issued and that existing permits will not be renewed.
  • Amend the conditions in the existing permits to protect the welfare of captive lions.
  • Amend the conditions in the existing permits to require the sterilization of all captive lions.
  • Set a zero quota for the export of lion bones in terms of CITES in order to remove the financial incentive to circumvent the law. Allowing the industry to continue to kill lions for the trade in lion’s 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.
  • Conduct an independent forensic audit of all lions and big cats in captive breeding facilities and the industry as a whole.
  • Develop a comprehensive national plan for dealing with the current captive lion population in a 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 organizations, civil society and other stakeholders who have the skills to deal with animal welfare matters and repercussions. 


Following on from the High-Level Panel of Experts Report, and in relation to the captive lion industry, the EMS Foundation cautiously welcomes the Minister’s statement that: “the breeding, petting and hunting of captive lions and the trade in their “derivatives” is something that the government does not want.” The government has been saying that it does not want this industry since 2018, when Parliament endorsed the Portfolio Committee on Environment report calling for the closure of the industry and the end to the lion bone trade.

Notwithstanding the need to follow procedural processes and the actual adoption of policy outlawing it, what we need to see is action. We are therefore urging the Minister to take swift, corrective, and practical steps so that this abhorrent industry is closed down once and for all and with no loopholes.

If this is not done as soon as possible it may have massive welfare implications for the many of thousands of lions held in captivity in South Africa who could in the interim by inhumanely treated and killed for their bones.  It could also mean a rise in the illegal bone trade.

We are also very concerned about the other big cats, particularly tigers, in the captive industry. Minister Creecy needs to include them in her Plan of Action.

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