Cape Town - While conservationists are pleading with local and global authorities to put an end to the trade in lion remains - regardless of whether the animals are wild or captive-bred - South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) say they are acting within the environmental law.
The department published a statement in response to public outcry on Wednesday, 25 January, saying that they are operating with the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) agreement, which stipulated that the Department could determine a quota of captive-bred lion bones permitted to be exported from South Africa in 2017.
SEE: SA's plan to export 800 lion skeletons 'misguided and shameful'
The DEA has emphasised that no exports of lion bones will be authorised in 2017 until the export quota for the trade in these specimens has been established and communicated to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat.
Before that, members of the public are invited to submit written comments on or before 2 February 2017 for consideration by the CITES Management Authority and Scientific Authority before the final quota is communicated to CITES Secretariat in March 2017.
Submissions can be sent to Mpho Tjiane via telephone on 012 399 9596, or via email.
Alongside the DEA request for comment, the Humane Society International has launched a petition, pleading with the Director of CITES Policy Development and Implementation to ban the trade of lion bones - regardless of whether they are wild or captive.
"The South African government cannot make a scientifically based determination that the export of these 800 skeletons is not detrimental to the survival of the wild population as required under international law. In the absence of this non-detriment finding, we urge you to establish a zero export quota and thus end the trade in lion parts," the petition reads.
See and sign the global plea here
"Lion biologists warn that captive-bred lion bone trade can be detrimental to wild lion populations because it increases demand and incentivizes poaching of wild lions. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has also called for the complete termination of captive lion breeding for commercial, non-conservation purposes," the Humane Society International says.
The DEA acknowledged the issue, saying, "One of the main concerns is that lion bones may be illegally sourced from wild lion populations if the trade in the bones originating from captive bred lions is prohibited."
ALSO SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Call to stop legal exporting of 800 captive bred lion skeletons
They also say, however, that a "well-regulated trade will enable the Department to monitor a number of issues relating to the trade, including the possible impact on the wild populations.
How did it come to this?
The South African population of Panthera leo (African lion) is included in Appendix II of CITES.
In terms of Article IV of the Convention, an export permit shall only be granted for an Appendix II species when a Scientific Authority of the State of export has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.
During the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Johannesburg in 2016, the Parties agreed that there should be a zero quota on the export of bones derived from wild lion specimens and that South Africa would establish a quota for bones derived from captive breeding facilities in South Africa.
It was further noted that when the trade in tiger bone was banned, the trade shifted and bones were sourced from South Africa, available as a by-product of the hunting of captive bred lions.
The CITES listing for lion was amended during the COP 17 to say that, “For Panthera leo (African lion), a zero annual export quota is established for specimens of bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth removed from the wild and traded for commercial purposes.
"Annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa, will be established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat.”
SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: Lions fail to get uplisted at CITES CoP17
This annotation, shockingly, requires that South Africa, through the National CITES Management Authority, in consultation with the Scientific Authority, establish a national export quota to be communicated to the CITES Secretariat.
Based on an assessment of previous year’s trade data (including trade in bones and hunting trophies) a quota of 800 skeletons was proposed by government at the start if 2017.
The following procedure was also proposed for the management of the 800 skeletons that will be exported from South Africa in 2017:
The quota will be managed at a national level
International trade will be restricted to trade in skeletons only (not individual pieces, bone pieces, etc)
Upon receipt of an application from a captive breeding operation (CBO)/hunting farm, the province will confirm with DEA whether a quota is available
The province will evaluate the application and determines whether the relevant permit can be issued
Skeletons will be packed separately at source (CBO/hunting farm), weighed, tagged and a DNA sample will be taken
Quota numbers will be indicated on all permits (e.g. killing/ hunting/ selling/ buying/ transporting/ exporting)
Consignment to be inspected (and weighed) and permit endorsed at port of exit, where random DNA samples will be collected.
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