New South African rules raise concerns for lions’ welfare

Sheena Adams
December 13 2006 at 01:39PM

The government will not ban canned lion hunting for fear of being sued – so it is going ahead with regulations likely to see more than 3 000 lions euthanised in 2007.

It was announced at a media briefing on Tuesday that the long-awaited draft Norms and Standards for Hunting, regulations attached to the Biodiversity Act, will be promulgated in March.

They will be published essentially unchanged from the draft version released in May 2006, according to the department of environmental affairs and tourism.

The regulations will still allow for canned hunts of listed large predators, but introduce|a registration process for captive breeding and other facilities – which the department acknowledges would be difficult to control.

Under the new laws, animals will also have to be free-ranging for six months before they are shot, a provision animal rights activists have labelled “nonsensical”.

Wildlife groups estimate that there are about
4 000 captive lions in breeding and hunting facilities. South Africa is only the second country in the world after Tanzania that permits canned hunts of the Big Five.

Conservationists have kicked up dust because the regulations say nothing about the welfare of thousands of lions that could end up homeless when the registration process kicks in.

If the government refuses to register certain organisations because their holding and breeding facilities do not meet the regulations, most of the animals will have to be euthanased.

Michele Pickover, of Animal Rights Africa, said yesterday the regulations were “insane”.

“It is all quite perturbing. There is going to be incredible abuse now. Lions are going to suffer at a pace and rate never seen before.

“But this is what they do – the department makes a big mess and then we are left to pick up the pieces. And as usual, the attitude in South Africa is ‘just let them die’,” Pickover fumed.

While she believed the majority of animals on affected farms would be shot, her organisation was also concerned that the “wholesale killing” of lions, including cubs, had already begun on farms in North West and Limpopo in anticipation of the promulgation of the regulations.

Fundisile Mketeni, the deputy director-general for biodiversity and conservation, said while there was no doubt |a significant percentage of these lions “would have to be euthanised, the government was considering relocating some to conservation areas”.

Also on the table is a proposal to establish a large sanctuary for the animals left orphaned by the process. These proposals, however, are complicated by the fact that lions bred in captive facilities are, by and large, tame and unable to fend for themselves.

Also, there is a danger in putting captive-bred lions in conservation areas with wild animals, because captive-bred animals are often inbred and therefore from a weak gene-pool.

The regulations prohibit the hunting of large predators in small areas and the hunting of animals under the influence of any tranquillisers or narcotics. Hunting of predators in an area adjacent to a holding facility will also be outlawed.

Mketeni told The Star that while the government considered the practice of canned hunting to be “unethical and unwanted”, it had no legal basis to ban it.

“If you ban a practice, you must have legal grounds to do so. At the end of the day, we must defend our decisions in court,” he said.

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