‘Cruel’ zoo gets reprieve

2009-08-07 00:00

AGRICULTURE and Environmental Affairs MEC Lydia Johnson yesterday struck a blow against a bid by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to impose tighter controls over the way that captive wild animals are being kept at the Natal Zoological Gardens, the Lion Park and Brian Boswell Circus.

EKZNW has alleged that the conditions in which captive animals, including chimpanzees, elephants, lions and cheetahs, are being held by zoo and circus owner Brian Boswell amount to “intolerable cruelty”.

Johnson’s decision yesterday to uphold an appeal by Boswell against the stringent conditions that accompanied the latest permits issued by EKZNW under the Natal Nature Conservation Act effectively pre-empts a court interdict sought by Boswell against EKZNW. The case was due to be argued in the high court today.

Boswell accused EKZNW officials in court papers of having “ulterior” motives for their actions, which he said are calculated to close down his businesses.

He maintained the far-reaching and financially crippling conditions (including a requirement that he must micro-chip his animals) are “ unreasonable, irrational and unlawful”.

Johnson ruled yesterday that the conservation body behaved in a manner that was procedurally unfair towards Boswell when it suddenly, without warning — and without giving him a chance to make representations — substantially altered the terms and conditions of the permits it has repeatedly issued to him for years.

However, she also said in her ruling that the allegations made by EKZNW about the conditions in which the animals are allegedly being held (under Boswell’s control) are “disturbing” and raise the question whether the the zoo, exhibition and circus are “fit and proper” to hold EKZNW permits to keep and deal with wild animals.

“On the face of it, these allegations paint a disturbing picture of animals that are neglected and/or kept in a manner that can only be described as cruel and inhumane,” she said.

But Johnson said this question is not part of the appeal, and the Constitution requires organs of state to act within the applicable constitutional and legal constraints.

“My finding goes to the heart of this requirement,” she said.

Regarding the allegations of maltreatment of wild animals, Johnson said EKZNW must report the matter to the relevant authorities responsible for investigating and/or prosecuting alleged criminal offences of this nature.

Johnson set aside EKZNW’s decision taken on March 23 to issue the permits “in the manner that it did”, and instructed EKZNW to reconsider Boswell’s applications for permits for the 2009 calendar bearing in mind his “legitimate expectation”.

She said the permits issued should be valid for the rest of this year up to December 31, 2009.

With regard to 2010 EKZNW was ordered to notify Boswell of any intention to issue permits in a different manner, and to give him the opportunity to make written representations on the proposed changes.

EKZNW media spokesman, Jeff Gaisford yesterday said the organisation was disappointed with the MEC’s decision which appeared to be based on ”technicalities”, but was unable to comment further and said a full statement will be issued today.

Steve Smit of Animal Rights Africa said they are disappointed with the lenient stance taken by the MEC. He said Animal Rights Africa believes all permits should have stringent animal welfare conditions attached.

He said he disagrees that Boswell was not given sufficient notice, saying he personally was involved in efforts over the past 20 years to close down the zoo and ensure the welfare of the animals there.

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