Roaring success for lion welfare


South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry has been an ethical challenge for years. The connection between cub petting, lion walking and canned hunting is well known, and goes hand in hand with the lion bone trade.

Lion artwork. Sketch: Graham Kearney

A number of organisations have featured in the news for their disregard of animal welfare, and the recent court case won by the National Council of SPCAs against the former Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), now known as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, has been welcomed. The Pretoria High Court ruled the late Dr Edna Molewa’s 2017 and 2018 lion bone quotas were unlawful, saying that correct procedures were not followed when they were implemented.

According to Judge Jody Kollapen, the quotas were reportedly not legal and were constitutionally invalid. While the judgement cannot affect skeletons that have been exported, it is seen as a victory for lions on the African continent.

When it comes to future decisions, the government will have to consider animal welfare in all its
conservation decisions.

Ashleigh Dore, Wildlife in Trade programme manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) agrees that the battle is not over. “There are still legal and systematic shortcomings around welfare of wild animals that need to be addressed,” she says.

Dore says the recent policy brief on welfare protection of wild animals not only addresses these legal and systematic shortcomings but also provides key recommendations.

“This includes the standardisation of laws and their implementation across the country, continuous education and training of conservation officers, as well as sufficient budget allocation geared towards capacitating conservation departments to carry out their important mandate,” Dore explains.

Export quotas increased significantly in recent years. In 2017 they were set at 800, but this increased to
1 500 in 2018.

The Department of Environmental Affairs issued more than 5 363 permits for the export of skeletons between 2008 and 2015. Many of these skeletons went to Laos and Vietnam, which are known hubs for illegal wildlife trafficking.

Lion in the Kalahari. Photo: René de Klerk

According to statistics provided by the EWT, current lion population numbers in Africa are estimated to be fewer than 23 000.

While there are 26 countries with wild lion populations, only seven of them have more than 1 000. Lions have lost 94% of their natural range.

South Africa allows lions to be bred in captivity and is the only country in Africa with an industry dealing in
carnivore production.

The government has not yet set export quotas for 2019, meaning that no skeletons have been exported this year.

The report on legal and practical regulations of the welfare of wild animals in South Africa is available at


Written by René de Klerk 

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