National Veld and Forest Fire A/B: deliberations; Management of handling, breeding, hunting and trade of lions in SA: stakeholder engagement; with Ministers & Deputy Minister

Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment

24 January 2023
Chairperson: Mr P Modise (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

Video

Conservation action, Wildlife ranching association, SA hunters and game conservation association, Report of the meeting to follow (awaited presentations)

The Portfolio Committee convened its first virtual meeting in 2023. It was joined by four government departments -- the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL), the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) -- to consider legal issues and the regulation or possible prohibition of the captive lion industry.

The Committee was taken through the amendments made to the National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill. The DFFE was asked whether the Minister’s role was compulsory in forming a fire protection association. A Member expressed discomfort over the absence of the Parliamentary Legal Advisor to provide guidance, and the Committee resolved that a legal advisor must be available for its meetings in future.

The main topic of the meeting focused on the captive lion industry. Government was of the view that the industry disregarded animal welfare and severely damaged South Africa’s brand as a nature conservation country.

Members wanted to know how the DALRRD could complement the role of the DFFE in protecting lions, the necessity to amend s10 of the Animals Protection Act, and how lions could be released into the wild again. There was consensus amongst Members that captive lion operations should be halted.

The engagement with the DEL focused more on labour compliance issues in the agriculture sector. Members wanted to know the number of employees hired in the industry, the number of workplaces in the industry that were non-compliant, the extent of captive lion breeding and occupation health and safety, and the outcomes of the Department's inspections.

In discussion with the DFFE, Members wanted to know the number of reported complaints about bait or the canned hunting of lions, whether the issuing of lion or lion derivative export permits had been halted since the publication of the High-Level Panel (HLP) report, the number of inspections on lion farms since the HLP report, the measurements used to define captive lion breeding, whether the DEL was part of the Wildlife Forum, and whether its inspections covered only those farms that wished to exit captive lion breeding voluntarily.  

Members recommended that the DFFE should engage with the DALRRD to discuss a possible amendment to s10 of the Animals Protection Act and adopt a two-pronged approach to addressing both the issue of captive lion breeding and reviewing its existing policy on the issue. They expressed concern that the bones of captive lions were not being transported to the countries which had originally been agreed to.

During the engagement with the DOH, Members asked the Department if it had discovered high cases of zoonotic diseases among captive lions, the possibility of tuberculosis transmission from lions to humans, and the Department’s role concerning captive lions. Several Members were not impressed with the Department’s responses, as they were of the view that it seemed not to have prepared for the presentation and was unable to answer the question on zoonotic diseases in captive animals. The Committee resolved that the DOH should respond to the unanswered questions in writing.

In the afternoon, the Committee received briefings from some industry representatives. Those included the Conservation Action Trust, the National Council of SPCAs, the Wildlife Ranching Association, the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association, and the Professional Hunters Association of SA.

Members were particularly disturbed and concerned by the mistreatment of captive lions depicted by the SPCA. In particular, they were concerned whether captive lions were being fed with a sufficient amount of food to meet their nutrient requirements, other than the chicken heads that were commonly observed.

In discussion with the Conservation Action Trust and the SPCA, Members suggested adopting the SPCA’s recommendations contained in the presentation.

Members asked for clarification of the definitions of captive breeding, hunting, canned hunting, the need to impose a temporary moratorium, the ratios between compliant versus non-compliant breeders, the progress of cases before the courts, the legislative mandate on animal welfare, as well as whether those two organisations had tried to engage with the DFFE and the DALRRD. They said it was not fair that captive lion owners who opted not to voluntarily exit the industry were not being inspected, and wanted to know whether all facilities should be inspected.

Two Committee Members were adamant that there was no need for discussion on the captive lion topic, because the practice had to be stopped.

During the discussion with the Wildlife Ranching Association, Members wanted to get an estimate of the compliant versus non-compliant wildlife breeders. They also wanted to know the possibility of re-introducing captive lions into the wild, the criteria for a compliant lion breeding farm, the trading of lion derivatives, the economic contribution of legal lion hunting and the impact of shutting it down, whether the jobs in the sector were complying with the Labour Relations Act, as well as whether the industry was adequately represented on the task team.

Some Members were unconvinced by the Wildlife Ranching Association’s assertion of the economic and employment contributions of those captive breeding farms. Some Members were also unconvinced of the point of captive lion breeding, since lions were not an endangered species.

Concerns were expressed over the mistreatment of captive lions in some facilities, as uncovered by the HLP's report, and from the presentation which Members had received from the SPCA. Members expressed their shock at the extent to which lions were being fed with a sub-standard diet that resulted in malnutrition and the presence of unhygienic practices.

In the Committee’s last engagement of the day with the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association and the Professional Hunters Association of SA, a Member asked whether feeding captive lions with chickens would be sufficient nutrition for lions.

It was suggested that the information provided in those two presentations should be integrated into the country’s ongoing discussion on the captive breeding of lions. Members were also interested to hear more about genetic diversity in wildlife species.

Meeting report

In the absence of a Chairperson, the Committee Secretariat indicated that the meeting may begin.

Since this was the first meeting the Committee convened in 2023, the Committee had to decide on an Acting Chairperson for the Committee until the Speaker confirmed the Chairperson position.

Election of Acting Chairperson

Mr D Bryant (DA) asked the Secretariat if the resignation letter of the former Chairperson, Ms F Muthambi (ANC), had been received and accepted by the Committee.

The Secretariat said that Ms Muthambi’s application would first have to be published in the Announcements, Tablings and Committees (ATC), but confirmed that Ms Muthambi had formally resigned and thus was no longer a Member of Parliament (MP).

In terms of s129 of the rules, an Acting Chairperson had to be elected if the Chairperson was absent. Hence, Mr Bryant was of the view that the Committee needed to elect a Chairperson, not merely an Acting Chairperson.

The Secretariat indicated that the Office of the Speaker would provide the name of the Chairperson after the Committee elected its Acting Chair.

Ms N Gantsho (ANC) nominated Mr P Modise (ANC) to serve as the Committee’s Acting Chairperson in the interim. Ms S Mbatha (ANC) and Mr N Capa (ANC) endorsed the nomination.

Mr Modise accepted the nomination as the Acting Chairperson. No objection was noted.

The Acting Chairperson greeted Ministers on the platform -- Ms Thoko Didiza, Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Ms Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Ms Maggie Sotyu, Deputy Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, and Minister Thulas Nxesi, Minister of Employment and Labour.

The Committee noted the apologies from Mr N Paulsen (EFF) and Mr N Singh (IFP). Neither the Minister nor the Deputy Minister of Health would be present at the meeting. Ms Tsakani Furumele, Director: Communicable Disease Control, would represent the Department of Health.

First Term Committee Programme

The Acting Chairperson took the Committee through the Committee’s first-term programme from 24 January to 6 April 2023, which was duly adopted.

National Veld and Forest Fire Amendment Bill

Ms Veounia Grootboom, State Law Advisor, took the Committee clause by clause through the proposed amendments, details of which could be referred to in the A list version attached.

The Acting Chairperson asked Ms Grootboom about clause 2, which amended s3(a) of the Act. It stated that “the municipality concerned, and a traditional council established in terms of section 16 of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Act, if any, may facilitate the formation of a fire protection association process as contemplated in subsection (3), if the Minister is of the opinion that a fire protection association is required”. He asked if the initial submission was retained that the Minister must be consulted by either the traditional council or municipality concerned.

Ms Grootboom affirmed, and indicated that the Acting Chairperson’s understanding was correct.

There were no further questions from Members on the amendments.

As the Parliamentary Legal Advisor was in another meeting, the Committee was unable to get their advice on the A list of the amendments.

Ms Grootboom indicated that the Department would draft the final list of the Bill once the Committee had agreed and adopted the A list version of the Bill.

Mr Bryant wanted to know why the Parliamentary Legal Advisor was not available at this meeting, and if they had been double booked.

The Secretariat explained that the Parliamentary Legal Advisor was also serving on the Public Protector’s Committee, which was currently in session.

Mr Bryant suggested that it should be ensured that there were sufficient advisors for Committees. Should the Committee need to discuss legal issues with them, that would be a lengthy discussion with many topics which Members needed to know as well.

The Acting Chairperson suggested that it should be resolved that such an apology would not be accepted in future meetings. He asked the Secretariat to convey the message to the Parliamentary Legal team.

The A list of the Bill was duly adopted.

Captive lion stakeholder engagement

Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development overview

 

Minister Didiza said that the presentation was being made jointly with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), as the two departments worked closely together on the captive lion issue.

She outlined the legislative framework the Department used related to affected animals. These pieces of legislation were related to animal production, genetic improvement (commonly known as breeding), disease management, animal welfare and meat safety. These issues were important to scientists, veterinarians, technicians, and welfare organisations.

The Animal Improvement Act provides the breeding, identification and utilisation of genetically superior animals to improve the production and performance of animals in the interest of the Republic. Through the Act, the Animal Breeders' Society, to which the majority of animal breeders belong, issued certificates concerning the breeds as well as the pedigrees of animals.

The Meat Safety Act 2000 provides measures to promote the safety of animal products to ensure the protection of citizens in terms of meat consumption. If an animal was not listed under the schedule, there would be no requirement for that animal to be slaughtered under an abattoir system. It would thus make it difficult for the Department to guarantee meat safety for consumption.

The Animal Diseases Act deals with the management and promotion of animal health. It not only protects animal health in the agricultural sector, but also protects humans from animal-human disease transmission. That was also why farmers had a duty to report to state veterinarians those human-animal disease transmission cases.

The Animals Protection Act extends the prevention of cruelty to animals and prohibits cruelty to all domestic and wild animals in captivity.

In terms of the trading in animal and animal products, Minister Didiza said that it was the Department’s responsibility to issue certification on all traded animals or animal products. For exports, the Department was responsible for ensuring that the receiving country accepted the animals. It also had to ensure that the sending country of the said animal met the requirement of the receiving country.

She confirmed that there were areas in which the DALRRD and the DFFE were working collaboratively to manage those game animals.

Discussion

Ms Mbatha agreed with the issues which the Minister had raised. Given her extensive overview, particularly her emphasis on the correct procedures for slaughtering animals for meat consumption, Ms Mbatha was resolute that the trading of captive lions was non-compliant and should be stopped. 

Mr Bryant asked the Minister what her Department's envisaged role was in complementing the responsibilities that the DFFE had undertaken in the protection of lions. He was adamant that interventions had to be implemented to stop the unethical practices. He asked the Minister if she would deem it necessary to amend s10 of the Animals Protection Act.

Ms C Phillips (DA) agreed with Mr Bryant, and pointed out that the Animals Protection Act was not even comprehended in 1962 when the Bill was first passed, since it had hardly come to people’s attention that big cats such as lions could be sold as commodities. Given that context, she wanted Minister Didiza to give her view on whether any amendments should be made to the Act.

Ms A Weber (DA) said that in May 2019, lions were classified as farm animals, and she asked the Department what the chances were that they could be re-classified as wildlife, as she did not see the reason for them being farm animals.

The Acting Chairperson was of the view that captive-bred lion hunting and the lion trade was a practice which was harming the well-established conservation image of the country and the actual "Brand South Africa." Former Minister Derek Hanekom had previously argued against this practice in the fifth administration, calling for its total ban. To a large extent, there was also consensus among Members of both the Executive and Parliament that such a practice should be banned. It was thus the view of this Committee that captive lion breeding, hunting and trade should be halted in the interim while policy on the issue was being reviewed. He asked the Minister why it did not appear to be the case. Furthermore, he was of the impression that there was an attempt to steer the Committee away from the topic of captive-bred lions to wild lions, while wild lions were not the issue here.

Minister's response

Minister Didiza thanked Members for their inputs. She noted the suggestions for legislative amendments, and whether it was necessary to domesticate lions and other cats and animals that might pose a danger to human society. In her view, it was a debate, and she suggested the Committee should look at all the pros and cons of the argument. She was resolute that if non-compliance directly caused danger to issues such as meat safety for consumption, those cases needed to be investigated.

She was of the view that the two portfolio committees should engage with departments to discuss whether it should be permissible to allow the domestication of lions and certain animals, and to assess whether such actions would cause a danger to society. Thus, any amendment to the existing legislation must be informed by the outcomes of such engagements.

Minister Didiza did not think there was any need to make any amendments to animal health. The current existing legislation provided how meat safety and processes should be followed for the slaughtering of animals.

She was unable to give a direct answer on whether lions should be domesticated and be allowed to breed in that environment.

Mr Bryant welcomed Minister’s suggestion for a joint colloquium on animal welfare.

The Chairperson noted the suggestion, and would include that in the programming for the Committee’s second term in 2023.

Minister Didiza added that there was no distinction between wild and domestic animals in the current Animal Improvement Act. The issue under debate was around the breeding of certain animals to improve those species.

Labour inspections in agricultural sector

Minister's overview

Mr Thulas Nxesi, Minister of Employment and Labour, said that the presentation would be on the Department’s labour inspections in the agricultural sector.

Labour inspectors were appointed to inform both employers and employees of their respective rights and obligations. They conducted inspections of workplaces and investigated where there were complaints in terms of labour law thereafter. The Department would also involve other departments in the enforcement process. The vision of the Department was the creation and promotion of decent work. It required regulations to ensure labour standards, health and safety, and sound labour relations.

He informed the Committee about the role of the labour inspectorate in the agricultural sector. The inspectorate had a programme to inspect labour standards in the agricultural sector, which was, in turn, part of a broader programme to ensure compliance in some of the vulnerable sectors.

Regarding occupational health and safety (OHS), specialised labour inspectors moved around provinces in the country to inspect and identify hazards to any work performed, or substances utilised. They also sought to establish what precautionary measures should be taken involving such work or substances. It was always the employers’ responsibility to ensure that they provided a safe and healthy work environment for the employees. It involved the implementation of precautionary measures, training and personal protective equipment where applicable.

Minister Nxesi said that in 2021/22, around 17 000 labour inspections had been conducted nationally, but those inspections were never enough, bearing in mind that many inspections had been carried out as a result of complaints. The outcome was that the majority of employers were compliant. Hence, the department’s task was to encourage them to comply, whilst targeting the rogue employers.

Given the DEL's limited resources, it partnered with the DALRRD to find innovative ways to increase and strengthen labour inspections on farms.

Briefing by Department of Labour and Employment

Ms Aggy Moiloa, Inspector-General, DEL, said the Department was actively conducting inspections within the agricultural sector as part of its provincial work plan, which sought to address non-compliance in high-risk and problematic areas. Labour inspectors embark on a series of inspections at farms country-wide, as the Department seeks to raise compliance in the sector. A national roving team (NRT) of labour inspectors had been established to focus on vulnerable sectors, of which the Agricultural Sector was one.

(See attached presentation for details).

Discussion

Mr Bryant was particularly concerned with the lion breeding industry and needed more specific details. For instance, he wanted to know how many people currently were employed by the lion breeding farm ranching sector, and how many inspections had been carried out since the publication of the high-level panel (HLP) report.

Ms Weber asked the Department to provide a specific number of how many of the workplaces were non-compliant with the HLP recommendations out of the 3 000 inspections the Department had undertaken.

Ms Mbatha wanted to get a clearer understanding of the role of the Occupational Health Standards inspectors, and the issue of lion breeding. She expressed deep concern over how animals were being brutally killed and the animal meat from non-compliant farms being donated to nearby communities.

Ms Gantsho said that the Committee was interested in the wildlife sector, which was why they needed a better picture of how the captive lion sector was doing. She was also interested in the findings from the inspections that the DEL had carried out.

Ms Philips asked if any thought had been put into re-skilling those working on the lion breeding farms.

DEL's response

Ms Moiloa emphasised that the main reason the presentation may seem far removed from the area of lion breeding was that the Department's core task was regulating employer-employee relations to ensure that the working environment and standards were safeguarded. It was thus unable to provide statistics related to the handling of animals, and so on. The Department’s mandate was to assess the people working in that environment and the extent to which they complied with the relevant labour law.

It did not have statistics on the number of people employed in the lion-keeping sector.

She explained that the role of OHS inspectors would be determined by the OHS Act and the various regulations that were tied to it. OHS inspectors would assess the degree of compliance in terms of the Act. They would check if a risk assessment was conducted in relation to the surrounding in terms of health and safety, such as the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), or if people working in an extremely cold environment were provided with body suits, etc.

Minister Nxesi commented that questions from Members indicated that the Department’s prepared report was far too general. What Members wanted were more specific details about employment relations in the agricultural sector. He said the Department would submit a detailed response in writing to the Committee.

Ms Weber reminded the Minister of her question on how many of those 3 000 inspections were at breeders that were not compliant. She would send those questions to the Ministry to find out more details. She said that it was quite important to her to get answers.

Mr Bryant highlighted that one of the consistent criticisms which Members noted was that in many of those breeding facilities, employees were not treated well. Employers were often in breach of labour legislation. He found it quite concerning that officials from the Department had almost no information on how many people were employed at those facilities, or how many inspections had been carried out in the sector. That made it difficult for Members to make an assessment of the state of those employees who were hired in the sector.

Minister Nxesi requested Members to refer some breeding farms where issues had arisen to the Ministry so that the Department could be more targeted in its future inspections. He confirmed that some inspections were the result of complaints from either workers or communities.

DFFE on captive breeding and trade in lion derivatives

Minister's introductory comments

Ms Barbara Creecy acknowledged the valuable recommendations that the high-level panel had made concerning captive breeding and the trade in lion derivatives. She informed the Committee that her Department had drafted a policy document last year that received more than 9 000 public comments as part of the process. Her Ministry had begun the process of drafting the White Paper and its final version was currently in the Cabinet system. Once that process was concluded, the document would be shared with the Committee.

Minister Creecy said that the White Paper dealt mainly with three or four issues which formed the basis of the Department’s future work in the sector. The first issue was a clearer definition of sustainable use. The second issue was to talk about the Department’s understanding of transformation and community beneficiation in the bio-diversity conservation space, because this was one of the few departments with no regulatory imperatives to implement transformation and community beneficiation. The third issue was related to understanding the importance of bio-diversity management in the country’s context, which included the definition of animal well-being.

She had appointed a panel which could advise her on those who wished to voluntarily exit the industry, and the panel had begun its work. Many of the issues that Members had raised earlier, including how many breeders there were, how many workers were employed, etc, would be looked into by the panel. She highlighted the inclusion of a labour expert on the panel, as labour matters could arise from their work.

Minister Creecy referred to the issue of tigers following the unfortunate event which had taken place in Midrand last week. She noted the significant public outcry about people keeping those animals as pets. She clarified that as the Minister of Environment, not the "Minister of Pets," she had no authority on the matter. Some of those issues would fall under the authority of local and provincial governments. Accordingly, she had asked departmental officials to raise the issue in the meeting on Thursday. She remarked that the unfortunate incident had shown that people were taking advantage of the lack of regulation in this area, and they thought that it probably would be easier to have a tiger as a pet than to have a dog as a pet.

Briefing by DFFE

Ms Flora Mokgohloa, Deputy Director-General (DDG): Bio-diversity and Conservation, took the Committee through the presentation, which focused on the management, hunting, breeding and trading of lions.

The state of the wild lion population in South Africa was said to be healthy and increasing, with no real threat of extinction. The expansion of the population was constrained by the limited suitable habitat.

Details of the regulations dealing with lion hunting were provided.

Captive lion breeding was regulated by the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) and Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) regulations.

Some of the recommendations from the high-level panel report were shared with Members.

The Department also informed the Committee of its drafting process for the White Paper on wild lions and the inspections it had conducted at captive lion facilities across the country.

(Please see presentation document for details).

Discussion

Ms Phillips referred to the bait for wild lion hunting on slide 7, and asked the Department if it had received complaints in this regard. If it had, she wanted to know the number of complaints, how the investigations were carried out, their findings and the repercussions.

She asked for a copy of the list of facilities in provinces on slide 9, and suggested that a copy should be shared with the Department of Employment and Labour.

Mr Bryant said he would send more detailed questions to the Department, and expected responses in writing.

He commented that the outcomes of the HLP report had come out at the end of 2020, but the country was still issuing export permits for lions and lion derivatives until 2022. Over 40 such permits were granted during the period. For the time being, he asked whether anything had changed since the publication of that HLP report, and if there was any intention on government’s side to place a temporary moratorium on such practices until legislation came into place, or if it would maintain the status quo until that legislative process was concluded.

He asked how many inspections had been carried out since the publication of the HLP report. He wanted to know if there was any intention to start the whole process again, and if that process would be concluded before the task team completed its work, because the statistics and numbers were important in terms of communicating with all those involved in the industry.

He asked if Minister Creecy had approached Minister Didiza to discuss s10 of the Animal Protection Act, because s10 was the section that would allow her to make regulations on animal confinement and treatment.

He sought clarity on the exact measures for captive hunting breeding, because he found the given definitions very vague and difficult for ordinary people to understand, especially what those definitions were regarding animals in enclosure, etc.

Ms Gantsho asked if the DEL was part of the Wildlife Forum. If it was not, she was of the view that the forum should be invited when the Department did its inspections on lion facilities. She was also of the view that the DFFE could be useful to the DEL on questionable labour matters.

Ms Gantsho commented on the engagement between government, traditional leaders and churches to discuss dropping the use of leopard skins and switching to synthetic fur. The outcome of that engagement led to an increase in the import of synthetic furs from China. She therefore asked if the Department would consider a similar approach to discourage local demand for lion skins and lion parts.

She referred to a report by the organised crime and corruption project in October 2022, which uncovered new evidence that the bones of captive lions were being traded in Asia in large numbers. The worrying finding was that nearly half of them were being exported from South Africa to Laos from 2016 to 2019. According to the export report at OR Tambo airport, no bones ended up in Laos. Instead, other data suggested that many shipments had been re-routed to Vietnam. She thus wanted to know if there was cooperation between the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the DFFE in such cases.

Ms T Mchunu (ANC) referred to slides 8 and 9 of the presentation, which indicated that the Members of Executive Councils (MECs) in provinces were the authorities who issued permits, and wanted to know whether there was any role for the national Department to play in those inspections.

The Acting Chairperson thanked Members for their inputs, and suggested that DFFE adopt a two-pronged approach by immediately engaging in addressing the issue of captive lion breeding, while also reviewing the existing policy in the sector.

He also asked the Department to indicate which industry stakeholders had opted to accept the voluntary exit offer.

DFFE's response

Minister Creecy recognised the importance of the Acting Chairperson’s question in terms of what the Department would do in the short term whilst it worked on the changes to the existing policy. She pointed out that there were certain missing activities before changes occurred. The position of the Department supported the recommendations of the HLP, but it also had to follow appropriate processes, such as adopting a White Paper. Once the White Paper was concluded, the Department would then begin its review of its policy position and make amendments to various laws.

In the short term, she clarified that she had not issued a quota for the export of lion derivatives since the end of 2019. There was, therefore, no legal export currently, though she acknowledged that there was illegal trading, as Ms Gantsho and Ms Mchunu had pointed out. The Department had also established partnerships with potential destination countries such as Vietnam and China to address the issue. It worked closely with SARS and the Border Management Authority (BMA) to intercept illegal wildlife trading, such as rhino horn etc.

Minister Creecy understood the potential impact of a ban on the captive lion industry and the policy uncertainty it would have for the current industry stakeholders.

She responded to Members' questions on inspections that the Department would not inspect every facility, but rather the facilities where people had indicated that they wished to exit voluntarily, as some of the industry members wished to make a voluntary exit. It was a complicated process, because the DFFE also had negotiations with DALRRD, which was responsible for animal welfare, to explore under which circumstances the Department could euthanise animals. She summarised that these were a few things which the DFFE had done, because it understood the hardship facing the industry, and the hardship was not in the interest of the industry, animals or workers.

She urged Members to give the HLP the space to continue its work instead of being interrogated by Members.

She pointed out that the environment was an area where many levels of government had rights and duties under the Constitution. Her duty as the Minister was to make policy. The running, inspection, and registration of institutions, etc, was a provincial government function. She suggested to Ms Phillips that she write formally to different provincial departments through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to request information on the list of facilities. Due to the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), the Department was not allowed to divulge such information to Members.

Ms Mokgohloa reiterated that the information on complaints which Members sought were with the provincial authorities. The information on compliance inspections undertaken between the DFFE and provincial authorities could also be obtained from the provincial authorities.

She said that the minimum area for keeping animals was 1 000 hectares. Provinces may have further specific regulations on top of that requirement.

She explained that the Wildlife Forum was a consultative body between the government and wildlife stakeholders. The DEL was not part of the forum, but it was a matter to be put forward for the forum to consider including the Department in its future engagements.

She said she was confused by Ms Gantsho’s question about organised crime.

Ms Gantsho said she would submit a follow-up question in writing to clarify the matter.

Mr Bryant said that one of the recommendations that emerged from the HLP report was that inspections of those facilities that kept captive lions had to be carried out. He thus sought to confirm whether it was a new resolution of the Department that only facilities that were voluntarily exiting the sector would be inspected, while others that continued to operate in their own way would not be inspected.

Ms Phillips welcomed the Minister’s remark on tigers. She asked the Department if there was a possibility of changing the term from "lion" to "big cats" when referring to captive breeding animals.

She noted the Minister’s response about not having issued any permits, but wanted to know if there were provincial authorities that had issued such export permits.

Minister Creecy said that she and Mr Bryant had both misunderstood one another. Her explanation was focused on those industry stakeholders who wished to voluntarily exit the captive breeding industry. The Department would naturally have to go to the site and verify all the information for those people. This did not mean that the provincial authorities were not conducting their own inspections. The Department’s enforcement unit had informed her that those inspections were indeed taking place.

She explained the difference between indigenous and non-indigenous species to Ms Phillips. She highlighted that the Department’s role was to regulate issues pertaining to indigenous species, such as the conservation of those species in the wild. The existing regulatory environment was twofold. On the one hand, there was the TOPS regulations, which dealt with lions and leopards. On the other hand, there was the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), under which tigers fell in Appendix I. CITES outlined strict regulations on the export and trade of live tigers. The Gauteng event showed an inadequate regulatory environment in which people took advantage of, and kept tigers as pets.

Minister Creecy cautioned against emotions mudding the water of the panel’s work, as it had a clear task to finish. The panel was focused on the work of the captive lion trade. She suggested that Members should rather approach provincial authorities and voice their concerns that tigers were not being handled appropriately. She pointed out that these were two separate issues and should be addressed separately.

Ms Moiloa confirmed that the DEL did not take part in the Wildlife Forum, and asked for the Committee’s assistance for it to be able to participate. She was of the view that access to such databases on where captive-bred lions were kept would assist the Department’s work in the inspection of compliance.

Ms Phillips reiterated her question about provincial authorities issuing export permits.

Ms Creecy declined to respond to that question, and wondered under what law provincial authorities would be permitted to issue export permits. She directed the question to Ms Mokgohloa who confirmed that there had been no exports of derivatives of bones since 2019. She urged Members to report to the Department should there be such cases.

Mr Bryant asked Minister Creecy if the derivatives excluded lion trophies.

Ms Creecy confirmed that bona fide hunting trophies and live animals may be exported to zoos and nature parks in other countries.

Zoonotic diseases presentation

Ms Tsakani Furumele, Director: Communicable Disease Control, Department of Health (DOH), and Ms Bono Nemukula, Deputy Director, DOH, took the Committee through the Department's  presentation, which focused on zoonotic diseases and their impact on human and public health.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) reported on zoonotic disease cases in humans. Veterinary Services reported only on zoonotic diseases that were controlled animal diseases, and the DOH reported information only on notifiable medical conditions (NMCs). Therefore, not all zoonoses were reported by Health or Veterinary Services. Researchers also collected data on selected zoonotic diseases according to their research.

Diseases that were transmitted from animals to humans were discussed.

The Department indicated that South Africa:

  • Needed to strengthen health systems to be resilient and prepared to face existing and future disease threats.
  • The various sectors, such as public health, animal health, plant and environmental health and researchers, needed to join forces to support "one health" approaches to effectively detect, respond to, and prevent public health events, including outbreaks of zoonoses and foodborne diseases, and to combat anti-microbial resistance.
  • Encourage collaboration and sharing of resources, epidemiological data and laboratory information across sectors and national boundaries. There was a need for an integrated OH surveillance system.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) were commended for their efforts to promote multi-sectoral responses to food safety hazards, risks from zoonoses, and other public health threats at the human–animal– plant–environment interface. However, much needed support and guidance on how to reduce these risks were required.
  • There was a need to conduct regular monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of policy implementation activities, including risk assessments.
  • The One Health approach had to be strengthened nationally, regionally and globally.

Discussion

Mr Bryant asked the Department if it had found high cases of zoonotic diseases among captive-bred lions versus wild lions.

Ms Gantsho asked if the Department had detected any tuberculosis (TB) transmission cases from lions to human beings.

Ms Mbatha understood that environmental health was a broad subject that covered a wide range of issues, such as meat safety and occupational health safety, as well as many other Acts which the Minister of Agriculture had mentioned. She therefore wanted the Department to provide her with a clearer role of the Department of Health in dealing with events such as the brutal killing of lions -- whether its role was to zoom into lions not being slaughtered properly, etc.  

The Acting Chairperson remarked that the information on zoonotic diseases between wild versus captive animals was helpful to Members. He asked the Department where those animals were kept, who kept them, and whether or not they were kept legally or illegally. He recalled the tragedy of the tiger in Gauteng, which reportedly mauled a dog and a person. He wanted to know where the people who kept lions could be found.

DOH's response

Ms Furumela explained that the Department of Health was responsible for the records of mostly human cases. It consisted of three branches -- public health, animal health and environmental health.

She admitted that the Department got reports from its animal health unit on TB cases. She could not deny that there may be cases where a person had got the infection from animals. She believed that the animal health unit would be better positioned to answer the number of zoonotic diseases among animals. Her Department currently does not have such information, but her colleagues working on the TB programme could advise more and revert back in writing.

Ms Nemukula clarified that the brutal killing of lions fell within the mandates of the DALRRD and the DFFE. The Department of Health had no role in the matter. Except for ensuring meat safety, such as the meat slaughtered out of abattoirs, she could not advise further on Members’ questions. She said that in Gauteng, the DALRRD had introduced a mobile abattoir programme to accommodate the slaughtering of animal meat for the purpose of different functions. She praised the system, as it had been working very effectively.

Ms Mbatha was dissatisfied with the responses, and wanted specific responses to the crisis of captive lion breeding, particularly on those lions that were being killed in a manner which was in contravention of the prescribed regulations. However, she would be satisfied to wait for the Department’s further responses in writing.

Mr Bryant expressed his deep dissatisfaction and disappointment in the officials’ unpreparedness to answer Members’ questions. He found it shocking that the presenter who specialised in communicable diseases, was unable to answer the question on the transmission of zoonotic diseases in captive-bred animals versus wild animals.

Ms Furumela noted Members’ disappointment, but pointed out that at the beginning of her presentation, she had been unclear about what the Department was expected to present. As far as she was concerned, the presence of diseases in lions fell within the mandates of the DALRRD. Her Department, the Department of Health, focused on public health mandates.

The Acting Chairperson reassured Ms Furumela that the Committee would engage with both the Minister and the Deputy Minister of Health on the issue. He explained why both her Department and DALRRD had been invited, which was because Members wanted to avoid a situation where one question could not be explained by one department and was being referred to the other department at the next meeting. That was why the Committee had requested all the departments to prepare presentations that could jointly answer all the Members’ questions. He requested that all the Members' questions should be clearly responded to in writing.

NGOs on the management of handling, breeding, hunting and trade of lions

Conservation Action Trust

The presentation was delivered by Mr Tony Gerrans, Executive Director at Humane Society International (HSI/ Africa), who briefed the Committee on why hunting lions should be prohibited. The large number of captive wild lions being hunted, which was widely advertised, caused huge damage to the country’s reputation as a country or a brand for conservation.

On behalf of the Conservation Action Trust, he appealed to the Committee and the government to implement the moratorium, as the High-Level Panel (HLP) report recommended.

The organisation noted the collaborative memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed between the DALRRD and the DFFE on the proper management of diseases and biodiversity in the agricultural sector. In light of that, it respectfully submitted to the Committee that the 2018 lion colloquium had resolved and indicated that the signing of the MoU did not address any substantive work on addressing animal welfare compliance, management and legislative reform. The MoU had proven inadequate to impact the circumstances on the ground. In the interim, animals continued to suffer and large portions of the industry that used animals for profit continued to be unregulated.

The organisation pointed out that according to government’s own information, the last time compliance in the captive lion industry had been reviewed was in 2019/20, and the last time it was done in the Free State, a province where a large number of these facilities were registered, was in 2017/18. It was of the view that a follow-up inspection was long overdue.

Overall, the organisation was of the view that the Department’s presentation earlier still left many important issues unaddressed. There was also conflicting information provided in the presentation. For instance, slide nine reported 8 155 captive lions, whereas slide 21 reported 6 834.

National Council of SPCAs

Mr Douglas Wolhuter, Manager: Wildlife Protection Unit, National Council of SPCAs, highlighted that the Animals Protection Act applied in the cases of wildlife animals. He emphasised that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was a statutory body for animal law enforcement in South Africa.

127 captive lion facilities were inspected in 2022. Of those inspections, 21 warrants were granted, 49 warnings were issued, six notices issued, there were eight dockets for lion farming, and 17 people had been accused. One case was currently in the courts, and the accused had made a first appearance in another.

Mr Wolhuter highlighted the difficulty the organisation faced in pushing those cases through because the judiciary system was often not in their favour.

The SPCA had discovered many cases of inadequate fencing, inadequate shelter, food and clean water, and poor hygienic keeping conditions.

There were also massive inconsistencies in the fencing system requirements across the provinces. Mr Wolhuter dispelled the misconception that the Animals Protection Act was subordinate to provincial ordinances, which was a false belief.

Mr Wolhuter complained about the poor diet that was given to captive lions. Lions were suffering from extreme malnutrition, as shown by the bones from animal carcasses after post-mortem examinations.

There was a lack of reporting of animal deaths on captive lion farms. There were also reports of lions being beaten to death.

Referring to the Gauteng tiger incident, he acknowledged that keeping tigers in domestic areas remained a problem.

Discussion

Ms Phillips said that in light of the SPCA’s statement on removing wild animals from the wild environment, she appealed to the Committee to support the work of the SPCA, and recommended that the Committee adopt the recommendations proposed by the Conservation Action Trust.

Mr Bryant asked Mr Gerrans to clarify the different definitions of captive breeding, hunting, canned hunting etc. Some of those terms were lost in translation, making it more difficult for Members to ascertain which types of activities they referred to.

He was aware that a number of inspections had been undertaken for those stakeholders that would voluntarily exit the industry. He was more concerned with those who were not abiding by the rules and protocols and were consequently able to escape that scrutiny because they were not being inspected. He thus wanted to know Mr Wolhuter’s opinion on whether all facilities should be inspected before making any decision.

He asked Mr Wolhuter if it was the view of the SPCAs that short-term steps, such as placing a temporary moratorium as put forward by the Conservation Action Trust, would be a better option in the current situation.

Ms Weber asked Mr Wolhuter if animal mistreatment was found amongst all lion breeders, or if the SPCA had come across good people who were genuinely there for conservation. Did the SPCA go only to farms where there were reports of mistreatment of animals?

Ms Mbatha was of the view that there was a clear indication that the captive breeding of lions should be banned. She simply did not understand why the matter was still being discussed. In the morning, she kept asking those departments their respective roles, to which they could not satisfactorily respond to Members. She emphasised that the brutality must stop, as the Republic was not benefiting financially either.

Ms Gantsho asked both presenters how many of the facilities they had inspected out of the hundreds of lion farms which the Department had mentioned. How many had they found where there was a mismanagement of facilities, based on its inspections?

Ms Mchunu agreed with her colleagues’ views. She wanted to know the SPCA’s specific recommendations to the Portfolio Committee and the Department, respectively.

Ms Mchunu asked the SPCA if they were involved in providing inputs to the MECs in assessing facilities when the provinces were issuing permits to those facilities.

The Acting Chairperson was horrified by the pictures shown by the SPCA, and described such maltreatment of animals as despicable. He said that Committee Members wanted to know where those people were so they could see for themselves.

The Acting Chairperson noted the dockets and 21 warrants referred to in the presentation, and required more details of those cases. He said that the SPCA must assist Committee Members in this regard so those holding animals in captivity could show Members their licences and provide justification for their behaviour.

He asked both the DALRRD and the DFFE what they were doing. He questioned whether departmental officials had heard of such information only for the first time.

He asked if Mr Gerrans had had engagements with ministries, and whether those engagements had borne positive outcomes. Had he come to this Portfolio Committee because he had exhausted all other means to address the matter? As the issue had been going on for a very long time, he was of the view that it was long past the time for debates and discussions. If the former Speaker of the National Assembly had been referred to court, the same rule should also be applied to those who kept captive lions.

NGOs' responses

Mr Gerrans agreed with the Acting Chair’s sentiment that it was long past time for talks. The recommendations in the HLP report further strengthened this view, that action must take place immediately. As discussions were carrying on, there was actually suffering on the ground which he believed would not be in the public interest.

He said that both the Conservation Action Trust and the SPCA had sought to engage with the state for some time now over the issue. The avenues and the off-ramp for the industry had been tabled to departments on at least two separate occasions in the last eight to nine years. In fact, the animal welfare community has proposed how this industry may be brought to a fair conclusion. There were members of the task team who had been involved in some of these deliberations. Unfortunately, he could not really engage with the task team to discuss their work extensively because the task team was bound by a non-disclosure agreement. He expressed his confidence that the Minister had put together sufficient experts to do the work.

Mr Gerrans said he was in front of the Committee because South Africa’s captive lion industry needed to remain a current issue at both the legislative and the executive branches of government until such time that it was resolved.

What the SPCA observed was the common problem of animal cruelty. Prosecuting the matter in court was a lengthy process and very expensive and difficult, because they very often did not have the support of the Department of Justice and Correctional Services on animal issues. He clarified that the pathways to shut down this industry rested squarely on the task team.

Mr Gerrans said it was iniquitous that organisations not complying with the prescribed conditions should be allowed to continue with the status quo, whilst those operating lawfully were being shut down. He suggested that those who were in contravention of the permit conditions should not be offered a pathway such as the one for those who exited voluntarily.

He commented that canned hunting was an emotive issue, and the legal framework came from another direction. Resolution 9.3 of the HLP report stated that it recommended that the Minister place an immediate halt on the captive breeding of lions. The hunting of the threatened or protected species (TOPS) was regulated. For instance, if one planned to hunt a lion, there needed to be a quota issued by the Minister, and a whole range of procedural requirements that must be adhered to before the permit could be issued. The fulfilment of that quota would be subject to the TOPS regulations. One of the TOPS regulations, regulation 26, governed the circumstances under which TOPS species may be hunted and included restrictions on hunting animals against a fence or when there was no chance of the animal escaping. He believed that those were sufficient provisions that precluded the types of hunting that they would like to see excluded.

Mr Wolhuter supported the suggestion that a temporary moratorium should be imposed on captive lion breeding. He also pointed out that the ideas that Mr Gerrans suggested actually came from the recommendations in the HLP report.

He confirmed that a few farms to which they had gone for inspections, had complied with all the requirements. However, there were more bad ones than good ones. He reiterated that those captive-bred lions had zero conservation value. He was even sceptical if Kruger National Park would accept lions of no genetic value.

Where those non-adhering facilities were located was very well-known. The difference between the inspections carried out by the Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) and the SPCAs was that the SPCA made unannounced inspections. During those inspections, no officer should be denied access to facilities during office hours. He attributed the slow investigations of some of the awaiting dockets around animal welfare to the slow judiciary process.

The Conservation Action Trust supported the idea that all facilities, regardless of voluntary exit or not, should be inspected.

The Acting Chairperson asked Mr Wolhuter to provide the Committee with those case numbers so that Members could enquire about their status from the Minister of Police.

Mr Bryant said that when it came to the discussion of animal welfare in particular, one would often hear from the DFFE that the legislative mandate on animal welfare lay with the DALRRD. Although this was true, he believed that the DFFE had to take animal welfare into consideration when making its own legislation. He asked the presenters to confirm whether the legislative mandate on animal welfare was indeed a DFFE or DALRRD issue.

Ms Mchunu followed up on the pending investigating cases, and requested that those case numbers be accompanied by the dates when those cases had been opened.

Mr Gerrans affirmed that the power to write new laws about animal protection unequivocally lay with the DALRRD. He had noted from Minister Didiza’s earlier opening remark that the Department did not have sufficient capacity and skills to address the complex issue of animal welfare, especially issues related to wild animals. He highlighted the SPCA’s lion bone judgment in court, which clearly stated that other departments had a duty to assist where animal welfare was concerned. That judgment made it clear that all branches of government, including the DFFE, must consider animal welfare in their administrative decision-making. Although Minister Creecy may be correct in her assertion that she did not have the authority, she and her Department were responsible for taking animal welfare into consideration. He suggested the DFFE should engage with the DALRRD on the issue of animal welfare to find a way forward.

Mr Wolhuter echoed Mr Gerrans’ view, and highlighted that s2 of the Animals Protection Act clearly stated that concerning animal welfare, everyone had a responsibility to protect animals’ welfare.

The Acting Chairperson remarked that the conversation was quite emotive in its nature, and that Members should sober up. Despite that, he commented that everyone was like that because they did things in the best interest of conservation for all South Africans and all the species.

He requested the case numbers again so that Members could follow up on those cases with the Minister of Police.

He asked both the DALRRD and the DFFE to outline their activities to address this state of affairs.

Mr Mooketsa Ramasodi, Director-General, DALRRD, said that his Department would revert back in writing. However, the DALRRD recognised the importance of animal welfare.

He explained that there were different types of inspections conducted by different bodies. At the heart of those inspections, it was crucial to identify locations so that the Department could look into non-compliance matters further.

On the issue of animal improvement, he said that the presentation in the morning had been quite clear: for any animal to fully participate, a breeder society was needed. Currently, the animals mentioned were not fully participating in the area of animal improvement. The Department could step in to assist as soon as there was readiness and agreement in the sector around the lions on the way ahead.

Mr Themba Mnguni, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, DFFE, said Minister Creecy indicated that the Department would respond in writing.

As the DG of the DFFE was not on the platform, the Acting Chairperson requested Mr Mnguni to convey the message to the Department, because they needed those questions answered.

Mr Bryant reminded the Committee of Ms Phillips’s remark on convening an animal welfare colloquium to consider the principles that needed to be adopted into wildlife welfare in South Africa.

The Acting Chairperson noted that point.

Wildlife Ranching Association

Mr Richard York, CEO, Wildlife Ranching Association, indicated that he and his organisation opposed any type of mistreatment of animals. He expressed his sincerest regret at what he had seen in the earlier presentation. He said people who mistreated animals should not be given an exit strategy -- instead, they should be prosecuted.

However, he cautioned that Members should not be driven by emotions but should look at the other side at the contribution the sector makes. Shutting down the captive breeding industry would pose the question of where those 8 000 to 12 000 lions would go.

He pointed out that the wildlife ranching industry differed from other industries, taking marginal agricultural land and converting it into a key home for wildlife.

He said the biggest threat to wildlife was when they became valueless to rural people.

Wildlife ranching occupies about 170 000 km2, about 14 percent of South Africa’s land mass. 97 percent of the oribi population, 88 percent of the bontebok, 95 percent of roan antelope, 87 percent of black wildebeest, 97 percent of sable antelope, 90 percent of blesbok, and 65 percent of the world’s white rhino population, were found to be on privately owned farmland.

Mr York recognised the value of the wildlife ranching sector for the preservation of lions.

He complained about the unsatisfactory response that he had received from the DFFE for the PAIA application. He also lamented the lack of legislative progress in the last 25 years in the industry.

He quoted the late Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, who had said that the canned hunting of lions was unsubstantiated because in South Africa, canned hunting was outlawed and the captive breeding of lions was strictly regulated and monitored.

Discussion

Ms Weber asked Mr York to provide an estimate to the Committee on the percentage of compliant lion or conservation breeders versus the bad ones. She wanted to know which ones were in the majority in that sector.

She asked if there was a possibility to re-introduce captive lions into the wild.

Ms Weber asked Mr York to provide clearer criteria on animal welfare for a compliant lion farm.

She questioned whether conservation included hunting, as it was still legal in the Republic. Although her view was that no one should be allowed to do game hunting, she still wanted to know if hunting would be a reason for being able to feed animals and maintain the farm.

She sought clarity on lion bones --where did they come into play, and did good farmers trade lion bones?

She wanted to know if legal lion hunting would be financially sustainable without captive lion breeding.

Ms Philips remarked that she was certain that the presentation which Members had received just now was the same as the one that had been presented to the high-level panel.

She highlighted the industry’s contribution to unemployment by highlighting that the 44 percent unemployment rate included jobs in the lion breeding industry. This showed that the industry did not make much of a difference. However, the damage of such allegations to South Africa’s reputation was horrendous and shocking. Given her extensive travel and her extensive interaction with people overseas, she noted that no one had ever objected to visiting a country due to caring people putting animal rights and welfare above financial interests. The only way that animal welfare people could be accused of damaging South Africa’s conservation effort was the cruelty they continually exposed. Their endeavours to stop this were classed as damaging the country’s reputation.

Ms Phillips said that those organisations accused of taking a lot of money and not putting it back into conservation should be allowed an opportunity to reply so that they could inform the people what they had done.

Mr Bryant indicated the importance of hearing all sides of the discussion. He had done a lot of research into both sides of the arguments on captive lion breeding. He described it as disheartening to see the mistreatment of lions in those facilities, and welcomed the organisation’s condemnation of such mistreatment as contained in the SPCA’s presentation. He highlighted the extensive references made to captive lions in the HLP report.

Mr Bryant wanted to know whether Mr York and his organisation and other similar organisations were adequately represented on the task team, to ensure their perspectives were also heard.

Ms Weber asked Mr York the percentage of the lion farming's contribution to the South African economy.

Ms Mchunu asked Mr York if the jobs created in the sector complied with the Labour Relations Act.

She asked him to comment on whether it was his view that the captive lion sector went against animal welfare, and was done at the cost of wildlife animals.

She recalled a case where a farmer had decided to punish a farm worker by throwing that worker into the captive lion space. She asked if the Wildlife Ranching Association had dealt with such lion breeders to avoid the recurrence of such incidents.

Had the Association considered the rationale of the argument for the captive lion sector, because the lion population was not an endangered species?

She referred to the picture of lions eating chicken in the presentation and Mr York’s concern for the welfare of the chickens, and asked whether his organisation had considered the welfare of those captive lions who had been deprived of their natural habitat of hunting.

Mr Capa asked Mr York to explain his understanding of the relationship between wildlife and development.

He was interested to know if wildlife animals should remain wild, whether their lifestyle should be interfered with, or be interfered with to a certain extent.

He asked Mr York to explain his organisation’s working relationships with DALRRD and DFFE.

The Acting Chairperson clarified that as a Committee, it had not met anyone who had accused any other person or institution of being a thug or a criminal in this sector. He believed it was a general statement, and reassured Mr York that no one had called this sector criminal. The rule of law that the Committee must apply was founded on the principle of audi alteram partem, which meant that both sides of the story must be heard. He therefore made it clear that the Committee was not in any way accusing anyone of being a criminal. He cautioned Mr Bryant that it would be incorrect of the Committee to use the same brush to red-paint everybody.

Breeding of other species had never been presented to the Committee as a problem yet, but the breeding of captive lions had been. The Acting Chair said that although it would be naïve to disregard what had been presented to the Committee, Members would be equally naïve to avoid the fact that the breeding of captive lions was harmful to Brand South Africa. He remarked that other Members had sufficiently covered his own questions and concerns, such as the percentage of good and bad guys, bone trading, the sector’s contribution to reducing unemployment, etc. It was undeniable that Brand South Africa and its reputation had been brought into disrepute by this sector, and it should not be looked at from the perspectives of profit generation and income. He further questioned whether it was fair that wild animals should be kept in captivity, and not be wild. The Committee wanted to know if a study had been conducted that drew empirical evidence supported by international studies to validate Mr York’s statements.

Association's response

Mr York responded to Ms Weber that the HLP report was just a report, and was not the law. Even if it was, his organisation and many others in the industry would have challenged it in court. He questioned whether the findings in the HLP report had been done by scientists, or had been driven entirely by emotion.

Mr York highlighted that the laws in South Africa did not allow captive-bred lions to be released or to change their status into wildlife. There was thus no way to prove the conservation value of those animals. The industry had proposed and proved that captive lions could be released into the wild and survive. From a business perspective, producing an inferior animal would be detrimental to a business such as those game ranchers. Hence, promoting animal welfare was one of their key priorities.

Mr York expressed his support for lion bones as well as the trading of derivatives from hunted animals as an industry. He questioned everyone present why they should be prohibited from trading, since the trading was done with permits under the auspices of the law.

He confirmed that hunting could be done outside of captive breeding, but it was very costly. He distinguished some of the misconceptions prevailing in the sector. Captive-bred lions refer to those lions that were raised in a controlled environment. Managed wild lions did not reach the conservation targets of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because the areas of the small reserves were less than 100 000 hectares. The IUCN recognised only Kruger and Kalahari in terms of conservation value, and iMfolozi was potentially viable with the rest of the lion population non-viable, which was why the Department had developed a bio-diversity plan to address the issue.

Mr York agreed with Ms Phillips on the high unemployment rate in the country. Because of the astronomically high unemployment rate, his view was that the country could not afford to jeopardise it further by shedding the jobs in the sector. The 1 162 jobs was the figure that was provided by Van der Merwe in the HLP report. There were also other indirect jobs emanating from this industry. He himself had never bred lions, but should the business shut down; he would have to convert his game ranch into another business. His 1 600 hectares that provided a habitat for rhinos, buffalos, antelopes, etc. would have to convert back to cattle, which would not be able to generate an income.

His presentation pointed to two different studies, one done by the Department and the other done by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), which showed that the wildlife industry created twice as many jobs per hectare than any other type of conventional livestock. The reason was that the wildlife sector created jobs in different spheres such as hospitality, tourism, hunting, by-products, etc. He emphasised that laws must be applied to all equally and consistently. Hence, should the captive breeding operations be forced to shut down, then sanctuaries should not be open either.

Mr York explained to Mr Bryant that the Wildlife Ranching Association had its own carnivore committee -- a forum consisting of scientists and top game ranchers, lions and carnivore breeders. This made the association a more than eligible body to play an advisory role to governmental departments. However, it had submitted twelve applications to serve on the Department’s task team and no one had been accepted. The industry had been entirely excluded in the task team process. It thus left them with no option but the legal route, because they were not being included in the consultation process.

Though the sector may have created only 418 000 jobs and may have generated only R316 million per annum, if one took into account the industries that were indirectly associated with the sector, that income would come up to between R14 billion and R20 billion. Mr York agreed with Ms Mchunu’s sentiment that job creation must be the first priority for the country, and he was appalled to hear that farm workers were being abused in such a horrendous manner, such as being thrown to captive lions. He assured the Committee that members of his Association would never do such things. It was in his members’ interests to take care and look after their workers so that their animals and businesses would be looked after in return.

Mr York criticised the double standards that had been applied to the sector. He pointed out that sanctuaries also fed chicken heads to lions. He emphasised that there had to be consistent standards in applying the prescribed standards.

He said the Wild Ranching Association had a very good working relationship with the Department at both the national and the provincial levels. He emphasised the importance of such collaboration. If they did not work together, they could not curb things such as rhino poaching, environmental crimes, etc. That was also why the industry appealed to the Committee to bring the industry on board and let the industry assist the government.

He apologised for the "criminal" remark and withdrew that statement. He also clarified that his view emanated from the narrative which focused mainly on questioning the industry and where the funds had gone to. To counter that narrative, he could also argue and question in the same way.

He disagreed with Mr Wolhuter from the NSPCA, and argued that those animals should have been euthanised because they would not stand a chance after being released into the wild. He highlighted that one needed to look after the welfare of all, and not purely for the sensation of media and campaigns.

He indicated that his Association's members would still have to apply for captive breeding permits, which formed part of the management strategies that included rotational grazing to ensure that they looked after the soil, grass and water, and preserved the habitat as best as possible. To release animals in an open extensive system was one of the worse things for the habitat because areas of grazing would not be given a chance to rest. Whilst legislation had been put in place to shut down captive lions, he questioned the difference between a captive lion and a captive wildebeest, which enabled members to manage their farms. Animals in captivity did not mean that farm owners had direct access to them whenever they wished to. Animals on ranches were still wild animals. He questioned the fairness that the management of the veld, according to the law, made such members in the category of captive lion breeders, which thus put them at a disadvantage or potentially suffering from a lack of business income. He reiterated the point that there had been studies as well as genetic studies that showed the survival of those captive lions which had been released. He pleaded with the Committee not to pull the plug on the entire industry without identifying an alternative route for those captive lions. The euthanasia of 8 000 lions would be criminal.

Mr Bryant asked about the representation of the task team. Since the DFFE was unable to respond to questions in the meeting and had committed to responding to them in writing, he just wanted the Department to also include its response on whether or not there was adequate representation in all the sectors so that those issues could be discussed in a forum rather than through courts, which would come at the expense of taxpayers.

Mr Capa asked the Association about their understanding of wildlife, and if there had been wildlife that had not been interfered with to a certain extent.

What was the working relationship between the Wildlife Ranching Association and the departments?

Mr York said that to answer Mr Capa’s question, one had to understand what was wild. His interpretation was that wild was without the hands of men. For wildlife to outcompete all the agricultural areas, it was inevitable that there had to be some form of management. With management came ownership and fences. With those fences, there would be captive control which required permits under the legislation. Unfortunately, he cautioned that the country could not let wild wildlife roam because there were cities, roads, schools, infrastructure, etc. Further, the government had a duty to prevent human-wildlife conflict. Currently, there was no such conflict because lions were behind fences and were being managed and looked after. Management was a huge key component going forward.

He assured Members that the Association had working relationships with every single department on the ground. Those departmental officials were the people to whom they reported rhino poaching, stopped behaviours such as people transgressing environmental degradation laws, prevented soil erosion, and preserved the habitat. The Wildlife Ranching Association had a regional interest group throughout the country that communicated with all provincial authorities weekly.

SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association

Mr Richard Sowry, Vice-President, SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA), took the Committee through its presentation.

The organisation made it clear that it did not support the practice of intensive and selective breeding for pure commercial purposes and hunting. It was of the view that the iconic status of the lion was associated with its wildness, and not from derivatives or captive facilities.

The organisation suggested that government should encourage small land parcels under intensive use, offset benefits by incentivising the ownership of wild lions in wildlife areas, promoting the understanding that not all wildlife areas were suitable for safari lodges, and addressing the unfair perception of hunting.

The organisation recommended the government should use a sustainable conservation-based resource management model to guide decisions when terminating the captive breeding of lions.

Professional Hunters Association of SA

Dr Paul Booyens, Senior Reserve Manager, Professional Hunters Association of SA, made the presentation.

He said that although statistics showed that there had been a 50 percent population decline in the wild lion population on the continent in the last four decades, South Africa was one of the four countries that had seen wild lion population growth.

He clarified the definition of captive breeding vs canned hunting. He debunked some misconceptions about captive-bred lions, such as their ability to adapt to the wild environment, self-sustain, reproduce, etc.

He recommended a suitable habitat, protection from persecution, safety of humans in close proximity to wildlife, etc., to augment the existing lion population.

Dr Booyens outlined the key hypotheses from his own 2021 research study about captive lions.

The South African Predator Association did not make a presentation, as they had not received the invitation link from the Committee. They were thus unprepared.

Discussion

Ms Weber asked Mr Booyens for his expert view on captive wildlife animals such as lions and big cats being fed chicken heads, and whether it would be good for those animals. She was particularly interested in knowing the outcome of the male lion which Mr Booyens had mentioned in the presentation that had been released at ten years old -- had he also been fed with chicken heads? She observed that most sanctuaries she had visited fed those animals with chicken heads and wanted to know if this method was effective.

Mr Bryant noted and appreciated the extensive information provided by the presenters. He hoped such useful information would be integrated into the ongoing discussion on the country’s transition from captive breeding. He was particularly interested to hear about Dr Booyens’s point on genetic diversity. He sought to confirm whether genetic diversity had been seen in other types of captive-bred animals, or if it was particular only to lions.

Professional Hunters Association's response

Mr Sowry did not hear any questions directed to his organisation, so he asked Dr Booyens to respond to the questions.

Dr Booyens indicated that the lion farming institutions he had identified would be classified as responsible farming institutions. Although he could not name those farms due to privacy concerns, he guaranteed that those farms were not in any way in the state of those farms had appeared in the SPCA’s presentation. They were responsible farm owners and those lions were fed with horses, cattle, and donkeys, rather than chickens. When it came to feeding any wildlife animal, he recommended that farmers and breeders consult the extensive available literature and do their proper research on the nutrition requirements of a species. He reiterated the point that if a wildlife animal was underfed or not being fed according to the nutritional requirements, that animal would not grow to its genetic potential and might result in the tragic incidents indicated in the SPCA presentation.

He confirmed that there was available literature on the genetic diversity of other branches of animals, specifically African buffalo, other than lions.

Ms Weber asked Dr Booyens if no wild lions could be used to replace a shrinking population, would it pose a problem in the hypothetical scenario if the lion population was wiped out, and would the captive lions in Pilanesberg assist the situation?

Dr Booyens responded that those lions could be used as saviours to boost the population. However, should they use only one group of the lion population and distribute them to different areas, there might also be the danger of a narrowed gene pool, which goes against genetic diversity. For instance, approximately 70 percent of the lions in 50 to 54 percent of South Africa’s privately owned game reserves originated from Pilanesberg. That did not boost genetic diversity, as it was similar to distributing one’s family across the country.

Dr Booyens rectified Committee Members’ understanding that he had not said that the wild lion population in South Africa could not be used to increase genetic diversity. What he had said was that it would be very difficult. For instance, there were lion populations in the Kalahari and the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area that would be viable for re-distributing to increase genetic diversity. It would be difficult, because people would then have to test them to ensure they were not related.

The Acting Chairperson indicated to Dr Booyens that some of the questions in his presentation remained unanswered.

For instance, the presentation had begun with the question ,“Are African lions in trouble?" but he did not note any follow-up responses to that question.

In the event that captive lions were released, he wanted to know how they would survive, since Dr Booyens had mentioned in the presentation that many of them were unable to adapt to the wildlife environment.

Then, the Acting Chairperson asked Dr Booyens how South Africa could salvage her reputation from the damage that captive lion breeding had done.

Lastly, he asked whether Dr Booyens viewed the industry as effectively contributing to the overall reduction of unemployment in the country.

Dr Booyens clarified that even though there was positive growth in the lion population in South Africa, in terms of the usefulness of conservation on a continental scale, that population growth may not be as viable as people thought it might be -- or worse, might not be worth anything. As he had previously explained to Ms Weber, although the country might be able to re-introduce those lions into the wild, it would be very difficult and risky to make such attempts. He said there was actually an overpopulation of lions in South Africa. They were so overpopulated that Dr Booyens had personally experienced the predicament of having contacted 92 potential recipients to house those lions, and all those recipients had declined. This reaffirmed the view that there was an overpopulation of wild lions and wild-managed lions in the country.

He therefore questioned the HLP and wondered how they had reached the conclusion that the captive lion industry posed a risk to the sustainability of wild lion conservation. It did not make sense that he had seen, witnessed and been involved in the difficult situation of getting rid of the overpopulated lions, whilst captive lions in enclosures posed a risk to wild lion conservation.

Dr Booyens referred the Acting Chairperson to the presentation on his explanation as to why captive lions could not be used for a re-introduction programme. However, the beliefs held by the majority have been proven to be false by research. The research done on reserves where captive lions were released showed that captive lions were able to self-sustain and reproduce. In fact, he would even join Mr York’s call, and appealed to the government not to ban captive lions because of a few minority cases in which facilities mistreated animals and “exploited” the positive side of it to contribute to lions’ conservation on a greater scale. He recognised the potential conservation contribution of the captive lion industry.

Dr Booyens responded to the Acting Chairperson’s question and specifically highlighted how South Africa could rectify people’s misconceptions about the captive breeding of lions. The negative public perception stemmed from the one-sided story on the negative impact, such as the images contained in the SPCA’s presentation. However, more effort should also be put into disseminating the other side of the story, such as the research that his team had done. That way, the public would be more informed and make their own decisions. He criticised the media for spreading only one side of the story. South Africa had one of the best conservation models in the world, but it struggled to convey that model to the world because of such negative publicity.

Dr Booyen affirmed the positive employment contribution of those reserves from which captive lions came. For instance, the reserve on which Members had focused employed about 60 people, the majority of whom came from rural areas that struggled to survive. Their jobs at the reserve provided them at least a minimum wage and a lot more to perhaps live on. That reserve was also encircled by at least another six or seven reserves of a similar size, which hired more people. He urged Committee Members to understand that for the rural population, it was more viable for them to work on a farm than to travel to large metropolitan areas for employment.

The Acting Chairperson thanked Dr Booyens for his presentation and responses, and requested all presenters to send through their presentation materials.

The meeting was adjourned.

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