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‘Shame on South Africa’ – environmental NGO slams the country’s decision to export 1‚500 lion skeletons

17 July 2018 - 06:00 By Nico Gous
EMS Foundation Michele Pickover has lashed out at Department of Environmental Affairs'decision to allow for and regulate the exporting of lion skeletons
EMS Foundation Michele Pickover has lashed out at Department of Environmental Affairs'decision to allow for and regulate the exporting of lion skeletons

Exporting lion bones is killing South Africa’s brand.

So says director of the environmental non-profit organisation EMS Foundation Michele Pickover who said in response to the new lion bones export quota the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Minister Dr Edna Molewa announced on Monday.

“[I am] completely gobsmacked. The fact that we are actually taking lions and killing them for their bones‚ shame on South Africa. The worst part [is] that tourists will not want to come to this country‚” Pickover said.

“They [DEA] might be supporting it [the canned lion industry]‚ but they’re slitting their own throats‚ because they are killing brand South Africa and killing tourism in this country.”

Molewa and the DEA said on Monday that 1‚500 lion skeletons can be exported annually from South Africa and is effective retrospectively from June 7.

The DEA said the quota was based on new evidence from a research project by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the universities of Witwatersrand (Wits)‚ Oxford and Kent‚ which analyse and monitor the lion bone trade in South Africa.

According to the DEA‚ the research found: • There is a growing stockpile of lion bones due to restrictions; • There has been no discernible increase in the poaching of wild lions‚ but there appears to be an increase in the poaching of captive bred lions for body parts such as heads‚ faces‚ paws and claws; and • The captive breeding industry is in a state of flux as breeders respond in different ways to the United States’ restrictions on trophies and the imposition of the skeleton export quota.

Pickover said she had not seen the research‚ but would request it “urgently”. She said some of the research by these institutions found there was reason for concern.

“But the biggest question is: Why are they doing this? There is so much damning evidence to show there is a huge problem with lion bone trade‚” Pickover said.

“There just is not enough information and as a conservation agency they should be using the precautionary principle which is‚ if you don’t know enough‚ don’t do it.”

Pickover said the EMS Foundation would release a report on the lion bone trade later this week. She described it as “pretty explosive”.

The DEA said there was a demand for lion bones and‚ if supply was restricted from the captive breeding facilities‚ dealers might seek illegal ways to source bones or start poaching lions.

It added: “South Africa has learned through its experience with rhino and abalone poaching that these illegal supply chains are very difficult to disband once they become established‚ and seeks to avoid such a scenario materialising.”

Pickover claimed‚ however‚ that once trade was legalised it became a cover for the illegal trade.

“Abalone is a perfect example of that and now we have a domestic rhino issue as well.”

The Department of Environmental Affairs will regulate the implementation of quotas and the following process must be followed: • Applications to export lion bones must be lodged with provincial conservation authorities; • Provincial conservation authorities must then confirm the quota is available with the DEA; • Provincial conservation authorities will assess the application and issue or deny a permit; • The permit must show the permitted quota; • All skeletons must be packed separately at the supplier; • Skeletons must be weighed‚ tagged and a DNA sample taken; and • Skeletons must be inspected and weighed when they leave the country and checked against permits.

South Africa is one of only seven countries in the world that has substantial lion populations. There are 3‚500 African lions in the wild and about 7‚000 are kept in 260 captive breeding facilities.