07 OCTOBER 2019

The recent news release of 342 kg of lion bones discovered on an outbound flight at OR Tambo Airport on 1stOctober 2019 which was subsequentially confiscated, had extensive media coverage.

The comment from the Director of Communications at the Department of Environmental Affairs, Albi Modise was that “although the export of lion bones born in captivity was legal, a special permit was required to send them out.” This statement was reported by a number of media outlets, including World News, The Straits Times, BBC News, EWN, MSN, Business Standard, 7D News, and This is Money UK, Getaway, Jacaranda FM, and NST.

The export of lion bones from South Africa is currently illegal. In order to be legal, a yearly quota is supposed to be proposed by the Scientific Authority through the National Convention on the international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Management Authority, then approved and communicated to all provincial conservation departments and managed at National level under the authority of the Minister of Forestry and Fishery and Environmental Affairs, Barbara Creecy.

Malepo Phoshoko at the CITES Policy Development and Implementation had confirmed in a mail to EMS Foundation (WAPFSA Member)  on 30 September 2019 that “No quota for 2019 has been determined”.

As no quota has been established, it therefore implies that the exporting of lion bones cannot occur and as such no permits can be issued under any circumstances. 

In 2017, the lion skeleton export quota system was introduced for the first time, as an attempt to regulate the uncontrolled export of lion bones. It was discovered that other species skeletons or parts, even those listed on Appendix 1 (CITES) were being shipped out of South Africa as lion bones; this smuggling activity included that more skeletons were exported on a single permit. 

Attending a Parliament colloquium in August 2018, members of WAPFSA, along with other organisations, presented documents and reports to the Environment Portfolio Committee. This two-day consultation and the overwhelming depositions against the industry, resulted in the Portfolio Committee Chair- the Honourable Philemon Mapulane, releasing his recommendations to the Department “To put an end to this industry”.   

Thereafter, on August the 6th 2019, a judgment following a NSPCA court case concluded that the quotas of 2017 and 2018 were “Unlawful and unconstitutional”.

The exporting of lion bones has been proven to have loopholes also for the following reasons:

  • Lion bones were being exported as “trophies,” yet they were bones that were being used for human consumption, so should have been labelled as “food”, which is a different permit.
  • As has can been seen in the many pictures of the bones in the 1st October seizure at the OR Tambo Airport, they have flesh attached, so therefore they should fall under the Food Safety Act 2000 and must comply with the South African Food Export Legislation, which again is a different permit.
  • Lions are not included on the list of meats suitable for human consumption in the Food Safety Act 2000 nor in the “Meat and Animal Product Export Procedures, South Africa”. 
  • Due to the advanced and strict laws regarding the slaughtering procedures and food processing for food export from South Africa, it is clear that the lion bones discovered at OR Tambo on the 1st October are an illegal export. 

Furthermore, bones might carry number of diseases of which they are not tested for; they might even contain traces of teratogenic sedatives used during the slaughter procedures. These substances are highly toxic for humans and no studies have been conducted to verify what percentage they can be ingested indirectly, through the bones and meat, so it is more than likely that these exports might be very harmful to human health. 

Between June and July 2019, a number of emails were sent by EMS Foundation to the Veterinary Association, the Health Department, the Agriculture and the Environmental Departments in order to clarify why the bones were never sent labelled as food as they will be used for human consumption. The Veterinary Association confirmed the risks of consuming bones and meat which might be contaminated with TB and medicinal; the departments of Agriculture and Environment shifted responsibilities but both avoided to confirm the legality of the shipment if considered as food, while the Health Department did not reply at all despite the multiple attempts to engage.

In June 2019 there was a stakeholders meeting to establish if a quota for 2019 could be approved. SANBI made it very clear: in the case a quota had to be established, the export of lion bones had to be one full skeleton per permit, rather than loose bones which will again be allowing tiger bones and leopard bones to be smuggled out as lion bones. DNA testing would result in clarifying whether they are indeed lion bones and not leopard or tiger as well. The October seizure would have been irregular also in this detail since all the bones were loose. 

From the weight of the seizure, we can assume that between 30 and 35 lions and / or big cats were slaughtered. A recent census in early 2019 was conducted by the Department to count lion farms across the country and to establish how many lions are farmed in total in South Africa and in which provinces. Therefore, following this census, it should not be difficult to determine from which farm/farms these lions came from and why they were slaughtered, the bones and meat dried and processed and packed to be exported illegally, as there are no permits and neither can there be, as the mere issuance of the permit would be illegal. 

WAPFSA Members are available for supplying documents and correspondence in sight of the court case held in Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court in mid-October, for further information contact WAPFSA Network.