Leading safari companies take bold stand against SA's lion bone trade agenda

Cape Town - Four safari companies active in SA has taken a bold stance again SA's Department of Environmental Affair's plan to export 800 lion skeletons to Asia. 

Singita together with &Beyond, Great Plains Conservation, and another, unnamed leading safari company, made a formal submission to the government during the short two-week window in which the DEA agreed to accept public comment.

A detailed five-page document signed by the CEOs of the four safari companies was submitted to the DEA, outlining why any trade in lion bone should be stopped.

In summary, their argument is two-fold. It highlights: 

1. An extinction risk 

Any legal trade in captive-bred lion bones opens up a channel for traders to launder illegally obtained bone from wild lions, thus leading to more demand and thus more poaching.

2. A business risk

The risk to the photo-safari industry is high for two reasons. First, the reputational damage to South Africa as a tourism destination could be significant. Secondly, lions are one of the most sought after “must-see” species for all safari tourists, and the loss of lions in a reserve, region or country would be devastating.

Together with a large number of submissions made by other NGOs to the South African government, the safari companies say they "believe that the contribution will assist the cause in placing additional pressure on those making these far-reaching trade decisions". 

While the jury is still out on whether or not SA will eventually be able to export 800 lion skeletons legally,  international campaigns to stop this from happening are still going strong. 

This after conservationists criticised the DEA for giving them 'no time to object' the move, saying that the two-week window was merely a veil, held up in order to comply with CITES quota conditions. 

SEE: SA public has 'no time' to contest annual quota of 800 lions' bones

"The Department of Environmental Affairs made the decision without public consultation, but was forced to hold a stakeholder meeting to comply with CITES," According to a Don Pinnock for the Conservation Action Trust

"This was clearly planned as a once-off meeting," Pinnock wrote, "but delegates managed to get the department to open a two-week window for public comment". 

The window closed on 2 February this year.  

How did it get to this? 

In 2016, the US banned the import of any lion trophies from South Africa, effectively terminating a huge market for the canned hunting operators and by extension the lion breeders. 

Unfortunately, at COP17, CITES, whilst banning international trade in bones from wild lions, a loophole was created to export bones and skeletons from captive bred cats.

The predator breeding industry has since successfully lobbied the South African government, leading to an announcement in January that a quota of 800 skeletons would be allowed for export per year. 

The destination countries for these skeletons are in Asia, where lion is used as a substitute for tiger in consumable items such as tiger bone wine and cake.

This quota creates an opportunity for breeders to have financial gain from the exploitation of their captive cats especially now that the hunting market has diminished. But selling the bones will by no means put an end to the captive-bred lion industry for good.  

But the fact remains: When the bones are sold, and there is financial value in keeping captive lions, killing them and exporting their remains, the practice will continue.  

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