- Government has approved a high-level panel's recommendation to stop the captive lion industry.
- South Africa will phase out captive-breeding lions, keeping lions in captivity, or using captive lions or their derivatives commercially.
- Animal welfare groups have welcomed this decision.
The end is in sight for the captive lion industry, after a high level panel found it poses a risk to sustainable wild lion conservation and negatively impacts tourism.
Among the panel's recommendations is that South Africa does not captive-breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.
The panel was appointed in October 2019 by Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, and its report was released on Sunday.
The panel had to review policies, regulatory measures, practices and policy positions related to hunting, trade, captive keeping, management and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhino.
Pamela Yako chaired the panel that comprised 25 members from a range of backgrounds and areas of expertise.
"The report contains a clear vision, with 18 goals and 60 recommendations. I must say it is remarkable that a group of people with different views on the management of these iconic species was able to achieve consensus on all recommendations, except those recommendations that deal with captive lion and rhino breeding," Creecy said on Sunday.
"In terms of captive lion and captive rhino breeding, where there were majority and minority recommendations, and having applied my mind, we will be adopting the majority recommendations on these issues."
"I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation in implementation is conducted.
"It is important to stress that the recommendations are not against the hunting industry. Preventing the hunting of captive lions is in the interests of the authentic wild hunting industry, and will boost the hunting economy and our international reputation, and the jobs that this creates."
Animal welfare organisations Blood Lions and World Animal Protection congratulated Creecy on these steps and pledged their support in "implementing a responsible phase-out plan to ensure that the commercial predator breeding industry is successfully closed down in South Africa, once and for all".
Both organisations were among the stakeholders who made presentations to the panel.
"By working together, we can ensure that lions remain where they belong – in the wild. We stand ready to offer our expertise, working collaboratively with governments, NGOs and the tourism industry to find practical solutions," said Edith Kabesiime, World Animal Protection's wildlife campaign manager for Africa, in a statement.
Director and campaign manager of Blood Lions, Dr Louise de Waal, said the only effective way to safeguard both people and animals throughout the industry was to conduct a phased shift away from commercial captive predator breeding operations.
"These steps will not only ensure improved welfare conditions for captive lions and other big cats, health and safety of the public at large, but also the protection of wild lions and the safeguarding of Brand South Africa from reputational damage, as the Minister acknowledged in her statement this morning," De Waal said.
"Thousands of farmed lions are born into a life of misery in South Africa every year in cruel commercial breeding facilities. This latest move by the government of South Africa is courageous – taking the first steps in a commitment to long-lasting and meaningful change. This is a win for wildlife," said Kabesiime.