Non-detriment Findings (NDF) for African Lion fly in the face of conservation & ethics

27 Mar 2018

Non-detriment findings were published for the African Lion on 23 January 2018 (GN 19 in GG 41393).

What are non-detriment findings?

A non-detriment finding (NDF) is a science-based risk assessment where the vulnerability of a species is considered in relation to how well it is managed. Factors considered include the biological characteristics of the species and its national status (distribution, abundance, trends and threats), as well as harvest management, control and monitoring, protection of the species from harvest, and incentives and benefits arising from harvest.

Why are they important?

NDFs determine whether certain species may be exported in terms of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 (NEMBA), provides that the Scientific Authority (which is supported by the South African National Biodiversity Institute) is required to make such findings on the impact of actions relating to the international trade in specimens of threatened or protected species and species included in the Appendices to CITES. In terms of CITES, an export permit for a specimen of an Appendix I or II species may only be granted when the Scientific Authority of the country seeking to export a specimen has advised that export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.

Trade can be allowed for species assessed to be at low risk or moderate risk in some cases whereas trade is not advisable for species at high risk.

What did the 2018 Lion NDFs find?

The non-detriment findings show that South Africa’s wild African lion population consists of around 2876 individuals spread across 41 475 km2 of mainly protected nature reserves.

While ‘minor’ threats to the lion population (such as poaching, conflict with communities and disease) are identified, the non-detriment findings report no major threats to this population. Surprisingly, the NDF recommends that the ‘canned’ lion hunting industry poses no significant threat to the conservation of wild African lions in South Africa. The findings posit that legal canned hunting may in fact serve as a ‘buffer’ to protect wild lions from the trophy hunters and the bone trade.

The NDF concludes; “The Scientific Authority does not consider the export of captive -bred lion trophies or captive -bred live lion for zoological or breeding purposes to be detrimental to the wild lion population in South Africa. At present there is no evidence to suggest that the lion bone trade between South Africa and East-Southeast Asia is detrimental to South Africa’s wild lion population.”

Why does this matter?

Contrary to the NDF, conservationists have argued that there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the claim that the hunting of captive bred lions takes the pressure off the wild lion population. South Africa’s scientific authority agrees with activists that there is little to no conservation value to the breeding of lions in captivity – no captive bred and reared lions have been successfully reintroduced into the wild. Captive bred lions also often suffer from genetic defects and reduced fertility due to inbreeding and selective breeding.

There are serious concerns that the 800 captive bred lion skeletons which the Department of Environmental Affairs authorised for export in 2017 are only fueling the insatiable market for “tiger-wine” in Asian countries.

In opposition to canned lion hunting, many have argued that it damages Brand South Africa and that we should instead encourage non-exploitative forms of tourism and conservation. There are also serious concerns regarding the welfare and treatment of lions in captive breeding facilities.

In permitting captive lion facilities and canned lion hunting, we believe the Department of Environmental Affairs is taking a short-sighted and dangerous attitude to the conservation of one of our landmark species.

Captive breeding and the canned hunting of lions is an unethical and cruel treatment of these magnificent creatures. The ‘trophies’ won by canned hunters represent a brutal end for cubs hand-raised for a bullet in captive breeding facilities. By allowing these industries to thrive in South Africa, the Department is facilitating a culture of exploitation that places financial reward over ethical principal.

These exploitative industries encourage a human attitude of ownership and commodification of ‘wild’ animals whereby people are allowed to treat animals as property without any respect for the animal’s inherent worth or appreciation for an animal’s integral place within an ecosystem. We do not believe that the reasons for canned hunting (trophies and the hunting experience) and the lion-bone trade (based on mistaken beliefs in the medicinal properties of lion and tiger bone) justify the promotion of captive lion breeding facilities.

We believe that the Department should take a stand to protect our wildlife from all forms of exploitation and consider the thousands of captive bred lions which are doomed from birth in the canned lion hunting and lion bone industries.

“By protecting the commercial interests of those who exploit lions instead of protecting lions, South African conservation authorities are feeding the flames that threaten all wildlife.” – Cormac Cullinan

See also:

Environmental Law: What does 2018 have in store for us?

Environmental Legal Compliance Evaluations, An Indispensable Risk Management Tool

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)

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