Animal Welfare

The legal regulation of wild animal welfare in South Africa follows the traditional, but outdated, distinction between animal welfare and biodiversity conservation. Captive wild animals under the physical control of humans, whether held temporarily or permanently, straddle the divide between interdepartmental and concurrent national and provincial jurisdiction, due to a statutory regime unintended and unsuited for addressing the issue of wild animal welfare.

There are no national norms and standards for the breeding and keeping of predators in captivity to address animal welfare and health concerns, an issue that straddles the mandates of DEFF and DARDLR. Even though welfare is alleged by DEFF to not be within their mandate, surely it must be this Department’s duty to abide by existing legislation, such as the Animal Protection Act of 1962 and the Performing Animals Protection Act.

There are many welfare concerns around the captive breeding and keeping of indigenous and exotic wild animals for commercial exploitation. Relevant activities include carnivore and predator breeding for hunting and the lion bone trade, as well as for stocking wildlife ranches, and animal interaction facilities, such as lion cub and cheetah petting and walking with lions and cheetahs. Welfare concerns include cruelty, unnatural behaviour, unsuitable conditions, disease, lack of medical care, and distress, but also a disregard for the animals’ most basic needs such as water and food. Inbreeding is also common which creates offspring with compromised health.

In the breeding and keeping of lions for the lion bone trade there is no incentive to keep lions in a healthy condition, when all that is to be used are their skeletons. In an attempt to maximise profits, welfare is not a priority for many lion facilities and the lack of adequate basic animal welfare conditions, such as sufficient water, food, shelter and medical care, is inevitable.

There are a number of slaughterhouses for the lion bone trade that are springing up around the country, where lions are kept in cramped cages, unable to stand up let alone turn round, and often without access to adequate food and water. Lions are kept waiting sometimes for days for their turn to be slaughtered, often shot with compound bows in front of one another, with no veterinarian present, and skinned and dissected where they fall.

South African Predator Association (SAPA) Norms & Standards

  • SAPA have developed norms and standards that are binding on all SAPA members and failure to comply with them is supposed to lead to disciplinary action and possible expulsion of the offender, according to the SAPA website.
  • According to these norms and standards, for “proper welfare within the lion industry” it must be ensured that no animal suffers from “undue hunger, thirst or malnutrition”, “undue fear and distress”, “undue physical or thermal discomfort” and “undue pain, injury or disease”. The qualification “undue” effectively negates all of the standards set and makes enforcement subjective, contentious and to all intents and purposes impossible.
  • SAPA has only a handful of accredited captive lion breeding facilities and about 125 members, which is a tiny proportion of the whole industry.
  • Although SAPA claims that no welfare issues exist among their member lion facilities, earlier this year, as an example to the contrary, the owner of a facility in the North West Province (a SAPA member and member of their Council) was charged by the NSPCA with animal cruelty. Inspectors found 27 lions with severe mange, two lion cubs unable to walk due to Meningoencephalitis, obese caracal unable to groom themselves, overcrowded and filthy enclosures, inadequate shelter, lack of water, and parasitic conditions.

Tourism facilities

  • Animal welfare issues associated with tourism interaction facilities, such as lion cub petting and walking with lions include:
    • The practice of removing cubs from their mothers sometimes within days of birth in order to trigger oestrous in the adult female, so she can breed again as soon as possible;
    • The practice of cub petting that involves the handling of cubs for up to 8-10 hours per day, when such animals should be sleeping most of that time;
    • A substandard quality of life for the lions and other predators kept in enclosures as tourist attractions.
  • International tourism associations, such as SATSA in South Africa, ABTA in the UK and the ANVR in the Netherlands, have turned their backs on unethical captive wildlife interactions due to animal welfare concerns.