Animal welfare bill being developed in isolation
Sheree Bega
2nd December 2021

A giraffe that was decapitated in 2014 when a transporting vehicle moving the animal to a game farm drove under a low bridge in Pretoria; captive lions found neglected and starving on a lion farm in Limpopo and a lion “abattoir” in the Free State to feed the lion bone trade.

These are some examples of legislative shortcomings where standards for domestic animals are applied across the whole range of wild animals, with “often dire results”, according to a 22 November report on animal welfare by a parliamentary research unit.

It describes how a June 2018 joint report by the Centre for Environmental Rights and the Endangered Wildlife Trust found that the existing regulatory environment is inadequate to manage proliferating commercial private wildlife facilities. 

South Africa has split the animal welfare mandate between the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment (DFFE) and the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD). 

But various reports, according to the parliamentary document, have highlighted the inability of these departments to work together to regulate norms and standards relating to the welfare of wildlife in captivity. 

“The capacity to enforce existing norms and standards has been dwindling while the need is on the increase. It has to take the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) to take the departments to court before action can be taken. The number of court cases relating to animal welfare could indicate dysfunctional relations between departments and stakeholders,” the report reads.

The parliamentary report describes how the regulation of wild animal welfare is “generally outdated” and does not address animal welfare holistically within the context of biodiversity conservation. 

Concerns over new animal welfare bill

Various animal welfare organisations, including the NSPCA, have voiced their concerns about being excluded from the development of the animal welfare bill, which is being constructed by the agriculture, land reform and rural development department.

In South Africa, animal welfare is primarily regulated by the Animal Protection Act (APA) and the Performing Animals Protection Act, with the APA being updated to include wild animals in captivity.

Michele Pickover, the executive director of the nonprofit EMS Foundation, explained that the working group appointed by the department to draft the bill is composed entirely of the department’s representatives and vets from provincial agricultural departments.

“This process is being undertaken without public participation … There are no representatives from the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment, despite the fact that the APA involves wild animals. 

“There is also no representation of the NSPCA — the statutory body with specialised operational units that deals with national issues and enforces the APA.”

Karen Trendler, an independent animal consultant, said the way that the bill is being developed has huge implications for welfare. “Our feeling is that yes, there’s a desperate need for improvements with animal welfare and while the APA has some issues, it actually is an Act they’ve learnt to use and has some very good components to it. The feeling is if you’re going to change legislation and you’re going to change who is enforcing it, it has to be an improvement. 

“There’s just not enough consultation, not enough information and it’s all being done in isolation. You’ve got very few people at the DALRRD feeding into this. The SPCAs, the NSPCA, the welfare groups and the conservation groups have been completely excluded and cannot get information, access to the draft, or participate in this working group.”

While they have been told by officials that they will be able to comment on the draft once it goes out for public comment, “by that stage it’s actually too late because there are not many significant changes that get made after that”, Trendler said. 

Animal Improvement Act

Of further concern, according to Pickover, is that in May 2019, the DALRRD included 33 species of wild mammals, including lions, giraffes, white and black rhinos and cheetahs under the Animal Improvement Act (AIA), “without public consultation”.

“The AIA is enacted to provide for the breeding, identification, and utilisation of genetically superior animals in order to improve the production of food and performance of animals in the interest of South Africa.”

There is, too, a “fundamental contradiction”, between Environment Minister Barbara Creecy’s draft policy position introduced this year, which reveals a shift towards a transformative, inclusive vision in harmony with nature, and the DALRRD’s policies.

Trender explained how for many years animal protection fell under the department of justice and was then moved to the agriculture department. “For many of us in the welfare domain, it’s kind of like the wolf got the sheep. They are a production department, focused on the economics of animal utilisation. So it makes a lot more sense to have animal welfare under the department of justice, where there is an element of neutrality.”

What is also “frightening”, Trendler said, is that there’s no clarity on who will be responsible for enforcement.

“The NSPCA has the legal mandate to enforce the APA and the Act also allows for some other welfare organisations to also authorise inspectors. The DALRRD … was not able to say who is going to enforce it during the recent question and answer [session]. Will SPCAs still have legal power or is the department going to put in their own inspectors, which has been one of the proposals?”

Douglas Wolhuter, the wildlife protection unit manager at the NSPCA, told the Mail & Guardian: “We can’t even comment on the bill, apart from us not being consulted, because we have literally had no insight into the draft. Not even the DFFE has seen a draft of this bill … I do believe that there is going to be scope for us to come into future discussions, but right now we’re all in the dark. For the largest animal welfare organisation in Africa to be excluded to this extent is a concern.” 

Animal welfare working group

Questions were posed during a recent briefing at a meeting of the portfolio committee on forestry, fisheries and the environment. 

“The content of the questions clearly outlines the concern about the formation of the working group, the exclusion of DFFE representatives and animal welfare organisations from this group,” Pickover said.

Asked why the NSPCA, as the current enforcers of the APA, and the DFFE, which is charged under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act with the wellbeing of wild animals, and other animal welfare organisations were excluded from the working group, the DALRRD said the animal welfare working group is a subcommittee, which is “an internal department(s) of agriculture subcommittee and therefore cannot include non-officials from the NSPCA. 

“The DFFE has only recently been included in the composition of the working group and have not yet participated in the drafting of the bill. Any further processing of the document will include the DFFE representative(s),” it said.

The animal welfare bill, it said, is still in its initial stages of development and  the draft will include aspects of the current animal welfare legislation, especially section two of the APA, which is “highly regarded in terms of protecting the welfare of animals”.

According to Pickover, a parliamentary colloquium should be urgently organised where proper stakeholder involvement and consultation can take place “prior to the drafting of the animal welfare bill for public consultation”.

Trendler added: “Part of the problem with animal welfare is not necessarily the Acts, or who is enforcing it. But you have a country that is so desensitised to violence  … that animal welfare is at the bottom of the list.”

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