On 17th and 18th March, LionAid travelled to Brussels to meet with EU Parliamentarians and the EU Commission Directorate General for Environment to discuss a diversity of options to prevent “canned” lion hunting trophies from South Africa from entering the EU in the future. The basic message from the EU is that achieving such a ban will not be easy, but LionAid will be proceeding on several fronts simultaneously to achieve this ban.
1. There is little possibility of enacting any ban via the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. The WTR basically enacts CITES legislation, with some significant differences. For example, it was through the WTR that recent legislation was formed to require import permits for all lion trophies. The WTR can now more easily implement import bans on lion products, but can only do so if the importation is judged to be non-sustainable. By definition, “canned” lion hunting will always be sustainable as the animals are captive bred and privately owned specifically for this purpose. The WTR does not have any ability to address animal welfare issues that might be used to prevent “canned” lion imports.
HOWEVER – South Africa has a very poor compliance record in terms of “properly” labelling lion trophies. In past years, almost all such trophies were labelled as having a “wild” origin, most likely to satisfy the trophy hunters that they had actually shot a wild versus a captive raised lion. In early 2012, the EU imposed a temporary moratorium (called a “negative opinion”) on lion products from South Africa (excluding hunting trophies as these were not considered “trade” under “personal and household effects” derogations). This “negative opinion” remained in place until September 2014, when the Scientific Review Group of the WTR was convinced by South Africa that they were now fully compliant and had amended their records back to 2012.
IN FACT – LionAid has discovered that the changes made to South Africa’s records still included many lion trophies imported into the EU under the “wild” designation in 2012 and 2013. Also, South Africa ONLY amended their records for the EU Member States and not for the rest of the nations importing their “canned” lions – most notably the USA. This lack of compliance should be of interest not only to the EU but also the rest of the CITES member states where the practice is just as illegal.
ACTION – LionAid has requested the EU commission to be able to see all records of lion products imported into the EU in 2013 and 2014, and all future records to determine South Africa’s level of compliance. Already there are grounds to petition the EU WTR to impose another “negative opinion” on South Africa – and since the passing of new import permit requirements, this will now include all hunting trophies as well. If successful, this will prevent imports of any lion product into the EU from South Africa in the near future, and gives us much needed breathing room to implement further action plans.
2. There is a “possibility” that we could use the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to motivate the European Commission to take action on legislation preventing “canned” lion imports into the EU. The ECI has had a troubled history – first proposed in 2002/2003, it finally became a reality in early 2012. Since then, 45 ECIs were registered of which 20 were rejected as “inadmissible”. As of March 2015, only 3 ECIs are active, and the ECI is now in danger of becoming extinct as a means of influencing EU legislation. Among the rejected submissions were those dealing with nuclear power and the TTIP trade agreement, arguably much bigger issues than “canned” lions…
HOWEVER – the ECI remains a means forward IF all conditions are fulfilled. These include gathering at least 1 million total VERIFIABLE signatures from EU citizens in at least 7 EU Member States IN PROPORTION to their population. In other words, it will not do to gather 999,974 signatures in the UK and one signature each from six other member states. Also, it will require more than the usual attention span required to submit a “petition” via organizations like AVAAZ for example.
IN FACT – This will require considerable effort and dedication. Given the issue, one would assume that such 1 million people could be found – BUT – it will require much more public education about “canned” lion hunting that as of today remains a rather unknown issue among most EU citizens.
ACTION – LionAid will push within our means to initiate the needed signatures for an ECI. We will need considerable assistance from like-minded people and organizations located in the UK and other EU Member States to deliver such signatures – which will actually be a “first” for any animal import welfare issue. It is a mountain to climb, but there then there is no mountain on Earth that has not been climbed?
3. There are precedents banning imports of animal products based on animal cruelty. Council Regulation (EEC) 3254/91 prohibits the use of leghold traps to obtain skins imported into the EU. However, this regulation is still in some disarray. Canada and Russia proposed the “International Humane Trapping Standards” as a way forward, and after many years of non-progress the EU Commission withdrew the proposal in 2012. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of trapped animal skins are being imported into the EU – mainly Italy and Greece. The other relevant piece of legislation is EU Regulation EC 1007/2009 prohibiting the placement of seal products on the EU market. The seal skin trade was effectively prohibited based on animal welfare concerns, and remains in place until now.
HOWEVER – The seal legislation was instated via public opinion and not necessarily as an animal “welfare” necessity identified by the EU Commission. It was largely due to citizen opinion supported by Brigitte Bardot that moved the then EU Environment Commissioner to take action. The current EU Environment Commissioner, Karmenu Vella from Malta, has already indicated that he will not be open to receiving applications for new legislation, perhaps aware that the seal issue landed the EU in the World Trade Organization court involving lengthy and costly legal representations (the WTO eventually ruled in the EU’s favour to uphold the ban after being challenged by Canada and Norway).
IN FACT – Past legislation based on animal welfare issues preventing imports of wildlife products have been “one-off” decisions and there is a reluctance to enact such “special” legislation for “canned” lion trophy imports.
ACTION – Special legislation will need to be pushed for “canned” lions, most effectively though public support and support of “celebrities”. It is within the mandate of Commissioner Vella to approve such measures, and with the right sort of pressure he might do so.
4. The EU Commission asked LionAid what measures South Africa is taking to clean up their own house in terms of the “canned” lion hunting issue. While there is undoubtedly a grass-roots desire to see the entire “canned” lion hunting industry dissolved, the industry remains entirely legal. Attempts have been made to identify the breeding farms supplying the lions to be hunted and to prevent overseas paying volunteers to spend their money at these farms. But there has been little effective attempt to influence legislation to make “canned” lion hunting illegal. Ian Michler told us recently that a lion breeding facility can earn $120,000 per MONTH from volunteers – meaning that the overseas “agencies” that provide such volunteers can be earning $48,000 per facility per month. This is big money and will result in a big reluctance to make any changes.
HOWEVER – Targeting the income streams for canned hunting facilities can be an effective means forward. Nevertheless, it would appear that such activities within South Africa have not overall met with the success desired. The breeding farms have become extremely adaptable to criticism and are now very careful to “appropriately” market their activities to volunteers to make claims of lion conservation.
IN FACT – South African organizations have not shown the EU Commission sufficient local effectiveness to convince the Commission that South African citizens will lend significant effective support to see “canned” lion products banned from the EU. Ian Michler has worked hard to make this difference, but there is still a level of “disconnect” between good individual actions and overall commitment. The South African position to keep “canned” lion hunting legal has been helped by positive pronouncements by the Minister of Environment Edna Molewa that “canned” hunting is beneficial to conservation of wild lion populations.
ACTION – Much remains to be achieved in South Africa to indicate significant local progress to aid the EU Commission in any future decisions to ban “canned” lion trophy imports as an overall welfare issue supported by South African citizens and legislators. LionAid would urge much more targeted and relevant action by South African concerned citizens to supplement the current awareness campaigns and popular marches.
5. While there are separate pieces of EU legislation applying to the welfare of farm animals like chickens, pigs and cows, and legislation governing the humane transport of such animals between EU Member States, there is very little (if any) EU legislation concerning wild animals. There is for example NO EU legislation applicable to welfare of wild animals in circuses or zoos, NO EU legislation concerning welfare concerns of hunting of wildlife in Europe, and NO EU legislation concerning welfare of animals bred to be shot by hunters – for example pheasants in the UK.
HOWEVER – There is a growing concern among EU Members of Parliament to address these kinds of issues. For example, the recently formed “MEPs for Wildlife” can bring up a diversity of issues – hence the recent debate about canned lions organized by MEPs Sirpa Pietikainen (Finland) and Catherine Bearder (UK). LionAid knows both these MEPs well, and we know they are totally committed to the cause of wild animal conservation and welfare.
IN FACT – The EU Parliament used to be the poor stepchild of the EU Commission and the EU Council. In past days, the Commission and the Council took scant heed of much of what the EU Parliament said, but times are rightfully changing and the EU Parliament now has a much stronger voice in influencing EU legislation and policy. That is called “democracy”…
ACTION – Every EU citizen has the right to meet and write to their MEPs to express issues that concern them. After all, they elected these MEPs to represent them in Parliament and pay for the salaries of the MEPs via their taxes. MEPs usually only spend three days per week in Brussels and then travel home to their “constituencies”. LionAid would therefore urge all those concerned by the continued import of “canned” lion trophy imports to take up contact with their MEPs to communicate their stance. The “MEPs for Wildlife” is a good initiative and needs very many more MEP members.
Overall, we as EU Citizens can achieve success in shutting down South Africa’s sordid “canned” lion hunting industry by preventing any further imports of South African lion products into the EU.
We have shown you what the challenges and solutions are, and if you are committed to the cause, we would ask you to join us in all aspects of this campaign. It will not be easy. It will require some considerable personal effort on your part. But together we can achieve this!
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