Written by Wynter Worsthorne
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of issues around the welfare of wild animals which have left me realizing that the conservation of wildlife in South Africa has nothing to do with the welfare of the animals being conserved, and everything to do with money and politics.
The two species which I focus on here are Lions and Baboons… these are the two that I have been working closely with in the field for over 15 years, in my capacity as a professional interspecies communicator and, of course, animal lover. I have just come back from an incredible week spent at the White Lion Trust, working with the only free roaming White Lions and their golden mates in a protected area of the greater Timbavati.
At the Tsau Conservancy, where the conservation of Lions and the restoration of the natural balance of occurrence of the White Lion gene in the Timbavati is the aim, the Lions and all the animals in the conservancy are treated with the utmost respect and dignity. This is an example where conservation and welfare can go hand in hand. Elsewhere in the country, Wild Lion are legally being hunted as trophies and are horrifically exploited in the captive bred industry.
Whilst I was at Tsau Conservancy, a government meeting was held in Pretoria to determine the quota of Lion bones allowed to be exported from South Africa annually. According to concerned parties in attendance, the meeting was no more than a formality to say that the process was involved in public participation. Quota of 800 full Lion skeletons per year to be traded internationally is going ahead.
A few days before this meeting two young White Lions in the Timbavati area, who are used for a “Walking with Lions” tourist attraction at Lion Tree Top Lodge on the Guernsey Rd, escaped from their enclosure and killed a man, whilst seriously injuring his friend. These Lions were captive bred, and hand reared for the tourist industry.
With the new decisions about Lion bone trade, captive Lions such as these could easily end up as skeletons being sold to the Chinese, increasing the supply of Lion bones to a country where conservationists are trying to decrease the demand. All legal trade of Lion bones have to come from captive bred or “factory farmed” Lion. Last year, following CITES, the Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species, South Africa down-listed the conservation status of Lions from being protected as “vulnerable animals” to “animals of least concern”. The only reason they were able to do that is because there are so many captive bred Lions – current estimate is 8000 Lions in more than 200 Lion breeding / hunting farms.
These Lions are taken away from their mothers at birth; hand reared then used for cub petting and “Walking with Lion” experiences; and once they are too big to continue, usually sold for trophy hunting and now their bones are being traded as well. This means millions of dollars going into the pockets of the individual Lion farmers. Money. Money. Money.
How will this new law affect the wild population of Lions? Because the bones trade will be incredibly difficult to police, and Wild Lion bones are far more valuable than farmed bones, the likelihood of an increase in illegal poaching and bone trade will be high. This decision directly affects the conservation of Wild Lions in South Africa.
That conversation dealt with, what about the welfare of the captive Lions?
Who is looking after that? No-one.
The NSPCA has a mandate to ensure that captive animals are not mistreated, but they are guided by the Animal Protection Act, which has not been updated since 1962. This states that as long as an animal has access to shelter, clean water and food and can turn around and stand up, they are not being treated cruelly. The moral reasons for keeping animals, not to mention the emotional well-being of the animal is not taken into consideration.
Lion cubs captive bred for the canned hunting industry ©BloodLions – www.bloodlions.org
To date, much research has been done around the emotional lives of animals, so much so that in 2015, New Zealand amended their Animal Welfare Act to declare animals legally as sentient beings. Canada followed them shortly afterwards with a declaration of their own. France, amongst others, is another of the countries that now recognize animals as sentient beings.
South Africa is a country that is proud to be counted as progressive and forward thinking in many areas of business and finance, even education and medicine, but is sadly regressive when it passes laws which allow animals to be cruelly used for trade with no regard for their welfare.
And so on to the Baboon issues. Whilst this government was meeting about legalizing the further exploitation of Lions, a juvenile Baboon was suffering from horrific burns as a result of the mountain fires on the Cape Peninsula. The Cape Peninsula troops are legally protected from hunting, however they are being “managed” by a company called “Human Wildlife Solutions” employed by the City of Cape Town. Their mandate is to keep the Baboons out of the residential areas. They do this by shooting at them with paint ball guns and literally creating a “Landscape of Fear”- their own description of the strategy they use.
As a Baboon population living on the urban edge, many of the animals are injured by cars, dogs, pellet gun shots, electricity pylons and occasionally veld fires. In the past an organization called “Baboon Matters Trust” which came into being because of concern for Baboon welfare, managed the Cape Peninsula troops, whilst caring for their welfare at the same time. An injured Baboon was assessed by professionals, and if necessary was treated by a vet and then successfully re-introduced to the troop. I was frequently involved on the ground with these rescue operations and the care for the Baboons was unquestionable. Sadly, sometimes the injuries were too bad to treat and the animal would be euthenased.
At all times the welfare of the Baboons was paramount. This went hand in hand with skillful management strategies using education, understanding and compassion, treating the Baboons with respect as the sentient beings they are. It was only when the City decided to put a large amount of money into Baboon management and the job had to be put to tender, did Baboon Matters lose their position… again because of money and politics. The company managing the Baboons at present frequently come across injured Baboons, but over the last 4 years of their tenure, only one that I know of has survived treatment and been placed back with the troop. Animals that raid houses are killed, and injured animals are “euthenased”.
After the recent fires a very young female was seen with horrific burns on both her hands and feet. Her condition was reported repeatedly to the authorities and no steps were taken to treat her. She died of her wounds 10 days later in incredible pain.
A direct quote from Brett Herron who is a member of the mayoral committee, in a letter to a concerned member of the public states “Whilst the decision to leave the injured juvenile Baboon with her troop may make some of us uncomfortable I am confident that the decision was made in accordance with the experience and knowledge of experts, in the best interests of Baboon ecology and conservation, and in keeping with our stated objectives.”
Nowhere in his letter is the welfare of the Baboon or Baboons mentioned. Their stated objectives concern only ecology and conservation…so as long as troop numbers are up, the animals themselves need not be healthy, happy or pain free.
As with CITES, as long as the number of Lions are at a certain level it does not matter in what state they are kept or how they are treated. How can this be changed?
Many animal organisations around the world are petitioning for changes in conservation policy in the South African Government. I would like to bring international attention to this state of affairs, and ask that all countries who recognize animals as sentient beings, and those who care about the ethics of animal welfare, hold sanctions against South Africa until such time that both Animal Welfare and ethics are taken into consideration with regard to Conservation.
It is not only Lion and Baboons who suffer under current policies; these are just two examples of many other species whose welfare is not given appropriate consideration in conservation and animal management policies. The Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW) is a proposed inter-governmental agreement to recognise that animals are sentient, to prevent cruelty and reduce suffering, and to promote standards on the welfare of animals such as farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife and animals in recreation. The declaration as of October 2014 has the support, in principle, of 46 countries and of ministries from 17 further countries. More than 2.5 million people from a wide variety of UN Member States have supported the public campaign.
I ask that these countries put pressure on the South African Government until they change their policy around the welfare of animals in wildlife management and conservation. The only way the hideous laws of the Apartheid regime were changed, was through financial pressure on the country. Maybe now we can speak up for the animals, fight for their rights as we did for human rights in the colourful history of South Africa.