A motion to terminate the hunting and breeding of captive lions and other predators in South Africa has been approved by the IUCN World Conservation Congress currently under way in Hawaii.

The motion requests the prohibition of the hunting of captive-bred lions under any conditions and also says breeding should only be allowed at “registered zoos or facilities that demonstrate a clear conservation benefit”.

Motion 009, requests that South Africa review existing legislation pertaining to the captive predator hunting and breeding industry and implement revised regulations by 2020.

The passing of this motion has come at a critical time as, despite more than 20 years of campaigning by local and international activists and organisations to bring an end to these practices, the industry has shown steady growth over the last decade.

Currently there are more than 180 facilities holding approximately 7 000 predators used for a variety of commercial purposes, including captive or ‘canned’ hunts. “We’re looking forward to working with the IUCN and Department of Environmental Affairs to implement the resolutions, which will have a significant impact,” says Wildlands CEO, Andrew Venter.

“There must be good reason for the IUCN to have passed this motion. It does not do our country or tourism any good to be seen as a zoo country breeding wildlife in captivity, which has no conservation value,” says Stan Burger, President of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) which announced its opposition to the industry in a statement late last year.

Although basic legislation is in place to regulate the captive keeping and hunting of lions in South Africa, IUCN members have acknowledged that the South African government has had limited legal scope available to terminate ‘canned’ hunting altogether and are hoping the guidelines set out in the motion will assist them to revise legislation.

“The Department of Environmental Affairs will consider the implications associated with the motion; engage the relevant IUCN members and then take appropriate action, guided by its legal mandate,” says Albi Modise, Chief Director of Communications for the Department of Environmental Affairs, adding: “As you know, these motions or resolutions adopted by the IUCN are not legally binding and therefore compliance with the resolution cannot be enforced.”

Nevertheless as part of its plan to implement the requirements stated in the motion the department says that the Environmental Management Inspectorate has prioritised strengthening compliance monitoring and enforcement relating to captive breeding facilities as well as enforcing TOPS (Threatened or Protected Species) regulations which prohibits hunting lions in a controlled environment.

But the department has made it clear that while legislation will be revised and regulated, the adoption of this motion does not necessarily mean that facilities will be shut down. Adding to further implementation, amendments to TOPS Regulations will be published early next year and are expected to include prohibiting the introduction of wild lion to captive breeding facilities and the captive breeding of lion if no conservation benefit can be demonstrated.

The department also says it will prioritise research to determine whether there is any conservation value in breeding lions in captivity. Further recommendations were the development of norms and standards for the welfare and management of captive-bred lions, which will be tabled by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

While the passing of this motion is significant, it is only the first step of what could still be a tricky process. “We’ve been down this road once before in South Africa and the attempts came to nothing. We cannot allow government, the breeders and the hunters to again play with the nuances of words and space that will result in failure. The world is now watching,” says Ian Michler, Blood Lions Consultant.