In a court ruling this week, government’s decision to set a quota for the export of 800 lion skeletons was declared “unlawful and constitutionally invalid”.
This comes at a critical moment in the history of the country’s controversial lion bone trade.
Last September, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) lodged an urgent interdict against the then department of environmental affairs to suspend the department’s authorisation of the lion bone export quota, and any subsequent attempt to increase the quota.
In May this year, without prior notice, the department of agriculture, rural development and land reform — formerly the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries — suddenly added lions, and a number of other wildlife species — including cheetah and black and white rhinoceros — to its list of animals governed under the Animal Improvement Act.
Last week, the department of environment, forestry and fisheries — formerly the department of environmental affairs — moved to clarify the legal status of lions and the other species listed under the animal act.
In a media statement, the department’s spokesperson Albi Modise confirmed lions are still “subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and provincial conservation legislation”.
“The inclusion of species such as white and black rhinoceros, lion and cheetah in the amended [Animal Improvement Act] list by no means removes these animals from the jurisdiction of the [department]. It is a punishable offence if a person does not comply with the requirements of [the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act] and provincial conservation legislation”.
In papers filed in the Johannesburg high court last September, the NSPCA challenged the department’s authority, because it believes, for both the review and interdict purposes, that: there is inadequate regulation of lions’ conditions of captivity and slaughter; the study on which the trade decision was based is incomplete; the department failed to comply with its statutory duty to consult; based on expert opinion and data available, it considers the decision to be scientifically irrational; lion bone trade may threaten the viability of lion and other big cat populations globally encouraging consumers to use lion bone as a replacement for tiger bone in wine, tonics and traditional medicines and may increase demand; captive lion “farming” is an industry that has no conservation value and poses a risk to wild lion, tiger and other big cat populations globally; and the lion bone trade has links to transnational wildlife crime syndicates and other wildlife crime.
The matter was heard at the end of June, before Judge Jody Kollapen. In the judgment this week Kollapen ruled in favour of the NSPCA.