The organisation has been documenting horrific incidents of cruelty to lions used in canned hunting and trade in lion skeletons.
In a Pretoria High Court judgment regarding captive lions, Judge Jody Kollapan said it was inconceivable that the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) could have ignored the welfare considerations of lions in setting the annual export quota of lion skeletons.
“My view,” he said, “is that the minister erred in concluding that since she was not seized with the welfare mandate for lions in captivity, she was not obliged to give consideration to welfare issues relating to lions in captivity when determining the quota.”
He found the DEA’s decision to set the quota for the exportation of 800 lion skeletons in June 2017 and 1500 in 2018 had not followed due process and was “unlawful and constitutionally invalid”.
“Simply put, if as a country we have decided to engage in trade in lion bone (trading), which appears to be the case for now, then at the very least our constitutional and legal obligations require the consideration of animal welfare issues.”
The judgement is a triumph for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) which brought the case before the court. The organisation has been documenting horrific incidents of cruelty to lions used in canned hunting and trade in lion skeletons.
Kollapen noted that it was impossible to now reverse the quota process and that the court’s task was merely to establish the legality of the action. The court therefore did not halt the export in lion bones.
Acknowledging the welfare rights of captive wild animals, however, is a major shift in legal thinking, something which has been fought for by the NSPCA and other civil society organisations for many years.
The NSPCA had opened a number of criminal cases against captive lion facilities that neglected – and in some instances completely disregarded – the welfare of their lions.
The department told the court it did not regard welfare considerations of lions in captivity as being relevant to the determination of the annual quota.
Judge Kollapen disagreed, noting a minority judgement in a previous case brought by the NSPCA in which the judge “recognised that animals are worthy of protection, not only because of the reflection that this has on human values, but because animals are sentient beings that are capable of suffering and of experiencing pain”.
A unanimous full bench had found that canned hunting of lions was “abhorrent and repulsive due to the animals’ ” suffering.
Last year, the NSPCA filed notice to set aside the export quota of 800 lion skeletons. Before this could be reviewed, the minister upped the annual quota for 2018 to 1500, but later reduced it back to 800.
The organisation contended that cruelty to lions was an inevitable consequence of the DEA’s misguided actions and was therefore in “court to protect the lions of South Africa”. It had gut-wrenching photographs to back its case.
Judge Kollapen said the judgement was important for both current and future generations in addressing the manner in which society interacts with wildlife and the environment.
Pinnock is an environmental journalist