Captive lion breeding in South Africa: the case for a total ban

Lion bones masquerade as tiger bones in China.
Wikimedia commons

Ross Harvey, University of Cape Town

A new report by global NGO, World Animal Protection, provides a damning indictment on the captive predator breeding industry. Big cats are being bred for the use of their bones in traditional Chinese medicine. China is estimated to house about 8 000 tigers in captivity, while South Africa may have as many as 14 000 lions. Nontobeko Mtshali asks Ross Harvey to analyse the issues around captive breeding in South Africa.

Is the South African government doing enough to manage the fact that it’s got the biggest number of wild cats in captivity?

No. The fact that it has the largest number of big cats in captivity in the world – anywhere north of 8 000 – across an estimated 300 facilities – is evidence of an industry out of control. It remains largely unregulated.

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries admits that it doesn’t know how many facilities there are. Nor does it know how many predators are in captivity.

Captive breeding is permissible under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The trade in products arising from it is permitted under an annotation. But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – the world’s foremost conservation body – has unequivocally called for its termination.

The South African government has been slow to act against the industry despite significant welfare concerns. These include the fact that regular practices include removing cubs born in captivity from their mothers a few hours after birth. And that they are regularly sold into the captive-origin (canned) hunting industry after they’ve outlived their usefulness, or sold directly into the Asian tiger bone trade.

On top of this South Africa’s legal trade is actively encouraging the consumption of tiger parts, which is imperilling highly-endangered wild tigers. This is because lion bones masquerade as tiger bones in China, where the purchase of tiger products is illegal.

The government’s interpretation that the industry can continue, provided it draws up legislation to govern it, contradicts a set of resolutions articulated by the country’s parliament in 2018 that called for laws to be reviewed with a view to shutting the industry down. There is no room in that instruction for the government to continue allowing the industry.

What are the biggest issues it should be addressing?

In my view, any new law should terminate the industry.

There is a counter-argument to this, that breeding may provide a buffer against wild lion exploitation. But this remains speculative, as the poaching of wild lions isn’t declining. There are probably fewer lions left in the wild than rhinos.

Also, legal supply availability undermines efforts to reduce demand. And the idea that South Africa and CITES can successfully regulate a legal trade in captive-bred lion parts or govern the industry well is a fantasy. The government has neither the will nor the resources to do this.

In fact, it’s not clear that a continued legal trade can have any positive conservation value. The price of lion skeletons would have to be just right –- a Goldilocks price that incentivised farming but somehow simultaneously disincentivised poaching. In an excellent scientific article on why a legal trade in rhino horn will not solve the rhino poaching problem, Douglas Crookes and James Blignaut show that it is always cheaper for a poacher to extract parts from wild slaughtered animals than to farm them sustainably.

Legal trade only works if it crowds out illegal supply, and that is almost economically impossible. It is further compounded by the fact that some consumers are after evidently wild-sourced product.

Finally, welfare considerations of lions’ lives in captivity bestow a responsibility on the government to end the industry. There are no easy answers. But South Africa’s Constitutional Court has ruled that

welfare and animal conservation together reflect two intertwined values.

What useful research has been done to help guide it in its decision-making?

Both sides use research to bolster their arguments.

The government is citing a study it commissioned that was published in an academic journal article last year. It conveys findings from a survey of a large proportion of South Africa’s breeders.

The government has indicated that it takes one finding, in particular, to be concerning – some breeders intimated that they would find illegal channels to sell their skeletons if the government’s export quota was too restrictive. Policy-making to accommodate these threats looks more like a hostage negotiation than a well-considered and impartial plan.

The article also argues that South Africa should continue to allow the legal industry to flourish so as to avoid introducing a price-shock to the market.

But parliamentarians point to a number of reports and a working paper have been published to examine the various problematic elements of the lion bone trade and the captive predator breeding industry. These informed parliament’s resolution to shut the industry down. But they have largely been ignored by the government.

What moral issues should it consider?

If welfare and conservation are inextricably linked, then the industry should be terminated on those grounds alone. But there’s a more pernicious moral issue at play.

Justifying the continuation of predator breeding farms on the grounds that there is no causally established relationship between farming and increased poaching is a form of crude utilitarianism. The utility to be maximised is a limited increase in wild lion and tiger poaching. If breeding serves that end, the means are justified.

This calls us to ignore the suffering of individual animals, which is morally objectionable. Science is not value-neutral, nor is its practice always impartial. It should never be used to ignore ethics.The Conversation

Ross Harvey, Independent Economist; PhD Candidate, University of Cape Town

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Podcast: Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Satin Nectar Rosé


It is podcast time.   Michael Olivier has brought along a Simonsig bubbly – the Kaapse Vonkel Satin Nectar Rosé.

John Fraser is joined on the tasting panel by Malcolm MacDonald from Clientele,  Gumtree Auto’s Jeff Osborne, Duane Newman from Cova Advisory and branding guru Jeremy Sampson.

Click below to join in the fun….

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Podcast wine tasting. An enjoyable Cape bubbly

Fizzy fun

For our latest ZA Confidential wine-tasting podcast, we asked the legendary Michael Olivier to bring a bottle, and he did not disappoint.

He brought along the Rurale Methode Ancestrale Blanc de Noir.

The guest tasters were branding legend Jeremy Sampson, Malcolm MacDonald from Clientele, Duane Newman of Cova Advisory, and Jeff Osborne of Gumtree Auto.

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Zuma and Trump: half a world apart, yet similarly paranoid and dangerous

Former South African President Jacob Zuma at the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture. EPA-EFE/Pool

Trump has spewed racist hate-speech against four Democratic Party Congresswomen of colour, telling them to “go back home” to their “broken” and “crime infested” countries of origin. Zuma, appearing before the Zondo Commission probing allegations of grand corruption during his tenure, has played the victim of a 30-year conspiracy. He has sought to “out” former ministers of his cabinet as spies of the apartheid regime.

Both Trump and Zuma will disown any intent to foment violence, verbal or physical, against those they pillory. But, they know that their words constitute a dangerous incitement. They may be half a world apart in ideology, yet Trump and Zuma inhabit a similar world of conspiracy, lies, threats and paranoia.

Their world seeks – and to an alarming extent succeeds – in providing explanations of their misfortunes to the socially insecure and economically vulnerable.

The outsider and the conspiracist

By common consent, Trump’s assault on the four Congresswomen is an early salvo of his campaign for reelection as president in 2020. He is making it plain that he will use much the same formula as in 2016.

He will run as the outsider against established elites, claiming to voice the concerns of the little man, but simultaneously positioning himself as an insider, a white male citizen, who promises to reclaim the US from the clutches of unwanted, unchristian and unpatriotic immigrants to restore the country to unsullied whiteness. Those against him he will denounce as unAmerican, as enemies of the people, and as the vanguards of foreignness and of hostile ideologies. Those against him will be criminalised.

Zuma’s fate is what Trump fears – being removed from the presidency. Zuma’s explanation for what has happened to him is to blame an opaque, near shadowy campaign against him. He alleges a plot by intelligence agencies of foreign powers and the former apartheid regime to remove him from any position of influence within a democratic South Africa.

To his mind, this explains his displacement as head of intelligence for the African National Congress (ANC), which now runs the country. It also explains his removal as deputy president by Thabo Mbeki in 2005, on what he regards as specious allegations of corruption.

Despite the best attempts of these hostile forces, he eventually rose to be President – only to be eventually forced out by his enemies in February 2018 – before the end of his term – as a result of trumped-up charges of corruption.

A world without morality

Both Trump and Zuma inhabit a world devoid of morality. It is a world which subordinates any sense of right and wrong to their political survival. Both identify what is right with their persons; both identify themselves not just with, but as the very embodiment, of their parties.

Trump has vanquished the old guard in the Republican Party and has twisted its conservative, neo-liberal ideology into a neo-fascist populism which other Republican politicians repudiate at their peril. Republicans in Congress have reduced themselves to fawning acolytes, desperate to retain the favour of Trump’s popular base.

In his pomp as President, Zuma acted likewise. The ANC in parliament and the country acting in craven subordination to his will, the liberation movement glued together by the material interest of his cronies and their patronage. Now out of power, he continues to identify himself as the “real” ANC, and those who ejected him from the presidency as counter-revolutionaries.

Both Trump and Zuma depict their opponents as enemies. Former US President Barack Obama was depicted as a “foreign Muslim”, foisted on the American people by unAmerican forces. Former South African ministers Ngoako Ramotlhodi and Simphiwe Nyanda, who have implicated Zuma in state capture, are denounced as apartheid spies.

Narcissistic and paranoid

Trump’s racist taunts are deliberately calculated to fire up his base. Zuma’s allegations of spies and conspiracy are equally deliberately calculated to raise the political costs of prosecuting him by convincing his supporters that they too are victims of injustice and falsehood.

The campaign of both comes at a cost to the constitution, the rule of law and – let’s not forget it – common decency.

Trump has embarked on his own campaign of “state capture”, his most famous prize having been his appointment of two right-wing appointees to the Supreme Court. This, backed up by the systematic appointment of conservatives to judges to lower courts, all to appease the white Christian right and to roll back civil rights for blacks, Latinos, the LGBT community and others for a generation to come.

Zuma’s campaign of “state capture”, structured around the interests of his friends, the Gupta family and other shady mafia-style bosses, is now being steadily undermined by the Zondo Commission and other investigatory commissions, yet came at massive cost to the economy, ordinary people and continues to fire destabilising political factional struggles within the ANC.

Trump and Zuma are both narcissistic and paranoid leaders, for whom the world of politics revolves around self.

Interestingly too, the politics of both are driven by the need to stay out of jail. Trump could face impeachment and prosecution for financial, tax and fraud offences once he is out of office. Zuma’s need is more immediate, and his present bluster and his threat to unmask yet more spies within the ranks of the ANC is designed to dissuade further criminal charges being laid against him.

But, the most frightening thing is how, from prime ministers Narendra Modi in India, through to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and Viktor Mihály Orbán in Hungary, the behaviour of both Trump and Zuma is becoming the new normal. And now Boris Johnson is waiting in the wings.


is a Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

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South African probe into corruption awaits a star witness — Jacob Zuma

Former South African President Jacob Zuma.

Mark Swilling, Stellenbosch University

It’s been almost a year since the Commission of Inquiry into allegations of state -capture in South Africa began to hear testimony. Also known as the Zondo Commission, it is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo Raymond, who has listened to 130 days of live testimony from more than 80 people. It is probing allegations that the government was captured by private business interests for their own benefit.

During it all, echoes of former South African President Jacob Zuma’s alleged involvement have become deafening. Through various testimony, Zuma has been directly implicated by current and former senior government officials and ministers. They have alleged, among other things, that Zuma leaned on them to help the Guptas – Zuma’s friends who are accused of having captured the state – and to fast-track a nuclear deal with Russia that would have bankrupted South Africa. Also, the governance failures that have resulted in the looting of parastatals, have been blamed squarely on state capture.

Zuma’s turn to give evidence has arrived. Not only does he deny that state capture exists – he’s called it a fake political tool – he’s also cast himself as a hapless victim.

Refusing to engage the concept, he said:

There are people who did things to others in one form or the other‚ and you can call it in any other name‚ not this big name “state capture”.

The allegations against him are that he orchestrated a network of corruption that hijacked South Africa’s developmental project.

The importance of Zuma testifying before the commission should not be underestimated. It will set a precedent that will either show that those that abuse power will be held to account or that the cycle of impunity will continue, reinforcing the unjust systems that enable state capture.

Understanding state capture

Originally, the theoretical concept of state capture referred to a form of grand corruption. In the case of South Africa, it can be defined as the formation of a shadow state, directed by a power elite. This shadow state operates within – and parallel to – the constitutional state in formal and informal ways. Its objective is to re-purpose state governance, aligning it with the power elites’ narrow financial or political interests, for their benefit.

State capture rests on a strategy to align the arms of the state and public institutions and business to support rent-seeking.

In the events being scrutinised by the commission, the evidence being led shows that actors made sure that all the conditions were created and processes lined up to extract more money than the actual goods and services cost as a way to enrich themselves.

This reveals the systemic nature of state capture. To be successful, it requires the deep cooperation and complicity of the highest office in the land to secure rents, hollow out accountability and maintain legitimacy.

The graphic below, by Robyn Foley, a senior researcher at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University, outlines the alleged strategy of capturing state-owned enterprises, installing compliant officials, undermining the functional operation of government institutions and discrediting critical voices.

The graphic points to a presidency where state capture became syndicated within the state and rent-seeking. Capture is a radical departure from the norms and values upon which a democratic developmental state depends. Like most liberal democracies, South Africa’s constitution provides for checks and balances that are supposed to limit such abuses of power. When these checks are undermined, and the balancing forces are biased, the system becomes a reinforcing loop of bad behaviour, spiralling towards an oligarchic authoritarian state.

In other words, a silent coup.

How did we get here?

Zuma set his presidency on the ticket of state-sponsored development. This entailed using state-owned enterprise procurement, tighter state control and Black Economic Empowerment to realise what has been termed radical economic transformation.

But it was precisely within this agenda, and the governance arrangements that supported it, that seeds for state capture were sown. Tighter state control meant that the flows of information were controlled by only a few, while state-owned enterprises used the biggest share of procurement rands.

There was already billions moving through these state-owned enterprises and radical economic transformation was the perfect ideology to bring it all together.

But black business hardly benefited at all from the profits of state capture. If radical economic transformation were to be effected through the constitutional state, it would be enacted through an economic policy that supported livelihoods and employment creation. In addition, state capture has hollowed out the very institutions that would have been able to realise radical economic transformation through the constitutional state.

The unravelling

Numerous events over the past decade point to a slow-burn abuse of key state resources. One of the first was the irregular landing of a civilian plane at Waterkloof Military Air Base in 2013. The plane was carrying foreign guests to a family wedding hosted by Zuma’s friends, the Gupta family.

Two years later evidence emerged that millions of rands of public funds had been used illegally for upgrades to the then president’s Nkandla homestead. This spending was outlined in a report prepared by the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.

The turning point came only months after the release of the Public Protector’s State of Capture report, when Zuma fired then Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas in March 2017. The events sent a shock wave through South Africa, triggering mass protests and mobilised public outrage, forcing Zuma to initiate the robust inquiry into state capture.

Our unpublished research shows that, to date, there have been 28 public state capture investigations, inquiries and commissions. There are also 118 outstanding cases of corruption involving government officials and politicians in the intray of the newly appointed head of the country’s National Prosecuting Authority, Advocate, Shamila Batohi.

The true cost of the damage cost by state capture, including the destruction of institutions and lives, is unquantifiable.

South Africans may well be seduced by the prospect of Zuma taking the stand at the Zondo commission. But he was not alone in driving the state capture project. And, the network of actors and influencers is extensive and still very much active. This much has been laid bare in testimony before the commission.

Nina Callaghan, Robyn Foley, senior researchers at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition at Stellenbosch University, contributed to the article.The Conversation

Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development, Stellenbosch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Tasting Podcast: KWV Cape Tawny

Wine and food scholar Michael Olivier uncorks the superb-value KWV Cape Tawny port-like wine.

Other tasters are analyst and writer Chris Gilmour, big-brander Jeremy Sampson and technological taster Malcolm Macdonald, who also helped with the recording.

There was also a lively discussion on suspected inflation in the prices of wines….

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Podcast wine tasting: Crackerjack 2016 red blend.

Paul Wallace Crackerjack 2016HR
A delightful red blend

Leading SA food and wine expert Michael Olivier introduces the Paul Wallace Crackerjack 2016 red Bordeaux blend, a delight from Elgin.

Our tasters are the brand-old brander Jeremy Sampson, writer and analyst Chris Gilmour and Clientele’s IT superstar Malcolm MacDonald.

There was also a chat about the recent Old Mutual Trophy Winner wine show, and the usefulness of such events in educating your palate.

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