Open Letter to Honourable Minister TM Masutha – Department of Justice & Correctional Services

The Coalition Against the Breeding and Keeping of Lions and other Big Cats for Commercial Purposes noted with shock the uncovering of an illegal Vietnamese lion and tiger bone syndicate operating in the North West Province.

A joint Task Force saw the arrest of eight people and a ninth suspect handed himself over to police after the operation, which exposed the killing of allegedly 40 lions at a lion farm near Klerksdorp. Six of the suspects are Vietnamese nationals and this has raised concerns regarding the course of justice.

Our Coalition believes this latest slaughter exposed by the authorities is a clear indication that the illicit wildlife trade is flourishing and is another incident that is slowly revealing the dire situation that we are facing in South Africa.

As you might be aware, earlier this month the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs published a report on the Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting and the Lion Bone Trade in South Africa, which concluded that:

  • The Department of Environmental Affairs should urgently initiate a policy and legislative review of captive lion breeding for hunting and the lion bone trade with a view to putting an end to this practice.
  • The Department of Environmental Affairs should conduct an audit of all captive lion breeding facilities throughout the country to ascertain the conformity with the current TOPS Regulations and other applicable legislation, and they should ensure compliance with such legislation.
  • The Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries should present a clear programme of work, outlining clear timeframes, on how they intend to address animal welfare and health in the captive lion breeding industry.
  • The Department of Environmental Affairs should reconsider the decision to increase the lion bone trade quota from 800 (2017) to 1,500 lion skeletons (2018).

The report further concludes that the captive lion breeding industry is doing serious damage to Brand South Africa. It also includes reference to an independent report completed by the Southern African Institute of International Affairs, commissioned by Humane Society International. This report states that South Africa’s tourism brand value could potentially be negatively affected by as much as ZAR 54 billion in lost revenue over the next decade, if this industry is allowed to continue.

The expose in April 2018 of lions transported in crates from Gauteng, the North West and Free State, allegedly without the necessary permits, and the subsequent animal abuse that took place at the lion slaughterhouse Wag-’n Bietjie outside Bloemfontein, created worldwide condemnation.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs, Hon Mr Mapulane stated that “South Africa is allowing a practice that everybody is turning their backs to, we need to find a solution as a country to improve the situation”.

Our Coalition believes that part of the solution is taking strong and resolute action in cases like this, so that criminal wildlife syndicates know they cannot operate with impunity in South Africa.

We want to take this opportunity to congratulate the Task Force on this successful operation and thank all law enforcement agencies for the work they do to expose those, who exploit big cats in South Africa.

However, flight risk is a real danger in these cases, as we have seen in many of the rhino poaching cases involving Vietnamese nationals. Those who were granted bail, have gone straight from court back to their country of origin without justice being served, as happened to the recently paroled kingpin Chumlong Lemtongthai’s associates.

Whilst law enforcement agencies have done a tremendous job to ensure the uncovering of this illegal activity, it’s important that the people involved are brought to justice and that a very strong message is sent out. We urge you to ensure that nationals from other countries do not have the opportunity to escape justice.

As a coalition of 19 animal welfare and conservation organisations, we respectfully ask you to ensure that bail for the nine suspects will not be grantedHowever, if bail is given, that their bail conditions will be stringent and flight risk is minimised. The seriousness of the crimes committed justifies such a move by the judiciary and will ensure that justice takes its full course.

We regard this matter as one of the most serious in recent times when it comes to animal welfare related issues and, as a coalition, we unequivocally condemn the barbaric acts of crime committed against these animals.

It is up to us as law abiding South Africans to ensure that no crimes are committed against the wild animals in which we take great pride. We simply cannot allow this to continue and we offer our full support to any government organisation in their fight against animal cruelty.

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