On the 17th May 2019, the former Minister Senzeni Zokwana of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries made an amendment to the Animal Improvement Act, 1998 (Act No. 62 of 1998) (AIA) to include 33 wild mammal species, commonly bred by wildlife ranchers, under Table 7 of these regulations.
The AIA is enacted “to provide for the breeding, identification and utilisation of genetically superior animals in order to improve the [food] production and performance of animals in the interest of the Republic”. The 33 species, including Black & White rhino, cheetah, giraffe, lion and 28 indigenous and non-indigenous game species, are in effect now treated in the same manner as livestock in so far as the recognition of breeders’ rights is concerned.
Under the AIA, the collection of semen, embryos and other genetic material, artificial insemination, as well as the import and export of such materials is permitted by licenced breeders. This enables breeders to create genetically manipulated animals, in addition to breeding rarities and colour variants.
This week, around 100 wildlife farmers gathered in Pretoria to establish eight interim species societies to regulate the 33 wildlife species listed under the AIA, as well as a Game Meat Value Chain Society to develop a roll-out plan for the game production value chain and increase consumer access to safe and healthy game meat products.
According to the Game Ranchers’ Forum (GRF) media statement, the inclusion of wildlife species under the AIA is welcomed by game ranchers, as they “will no longer have to negotiate with a department [Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF)] that applies an arbitrary approach to environmental legislation and gives officials discretionary powers to issue a permit, or not”.
DEFF however made it very clear that the animals listed under the AIA amendment are still subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA) and provincial conservation legislation, including the issuing of relevant permits.
In a media statement DEFF said that “any person who carries out a restricted activity, such as the keeping, breeding, selling or transporting of an animal of a listed threatened or protected species, must still comply with the provisions of NEMBA and its associated Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations”.
“The inclusion of species, such as white and black rhinoceros, lion and cheetah, in the amended AIA list by no means removes these animals from the jurisdiction of DEFF. It is a punishable offence if a person does not comply with the requirements of NEMBA and provincial conservation legislation”, the DEFF statement continues.
The move to include these 33 wild mammal species under Table 7 of the AIA has been driven by the wildlife farming industry, as they see it as their Constitutional right to drive the “Wildlife Economy”.
The GRF believes legislation under DEFF is too restrictive and highlighted numerous advantages for game farmers to fall under the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), as they “recognise game farming as a commodity producing activity…and not an extension of state conservation activities”.
The game ranchers’ industry is also pushing to have farmed wild animals listed with a new and separate CITES purpose code, which may come up at CoP19.
Even though many of the 33 wild animal species reclassified under the AIA are already widely bred in captivity in South Africa, the further legalisation of intensive breeding of these species raises alarm bells and the Coalition wants clarification and/or immediate action taken on the following issues:
- Neither the AIA nor NEMBA make provision for animal welfare in the captive breeding and keeping of wild animals, in particular lions and other big cats, which continues to straddle the mandates of DEFF and DALRRD, and even the provincial nature conservation authorities. In August 2019, Judge Kollapen ruled in the Gauteng High Court that the setting of the lion bone quota in 2017 & 2018 is “unlawful and constitutionally invalid. Even if they [lions] are ultimately bred for trophy hunting and for commercial purposes, their suffering, the conditions under which they are kept and the like remain a matter of public concern and are inextricably linked to how we instil respect for animals and the environment of which lions in captivity are an integral part of.” He further stated that “….then it is inconceivable that the State Respondents could have ignored welfare considerations of lions in captivity in setting the annual export quota”.
- A Parliamentary Resolution by the 5th Parliament states that DEFF and DALRRD should present a clear programme of work on how they intend to address animal welfare and health issues that had been raised during the Colloquium, which straddle the mandates of the two departments, outlining clear timeframes for achieving this. We request that the amendments to the AIA be reviewed under this programme prior to implementation.
- The AIA Amendment seems to be implemented by DALRRD without consulting DEFF, or any public consultation for that matter, and with the apparent assumption that AIA takes precedence over NEMBA and TOPS.
- The AIA Amendment also seems to undermine the recent appointment of a High-Level Panel by Minister Barbara Creecy (DEFF) with the mandate to review policies, legislation and practices related to the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.
- The AIA Amendment may potentially loosen restrictions on hunting and the movement of NEMBA listed species and the GRF have already hinted to self-regulation of the industry, which is hugely problematic. Membership of a professional forum or association is ultimately voluntary and its norms and standards cannot be enforced. In addition, self-regulatory standards can neither supersede nor ignore other regulations, acts and/or provincial and national legislation.
- The splitting of a species into “wild”, “wild-managed” and “captive” opens up loopholes in terms of laundering wild sourced live animals and their parts and derivatives into the captive industry and trade.
- The AIA amendment puts the 33 listed species at risk of further genetic manipulation and cross-breeding, and may now also be used for meat production, without any national norms and standards in place on the breeding, keeping, transport and slaughter of these animals.
As a matter of urgency, the Coalition urges DEFF to commence immediate engagement with DALRRD on the issues above and for the two Departments to collaborate rather than work in silos on matters that are clearly of inter-departmental and national importance, until such time that the AIA Amendment will be repealed.