The Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Ms Barbara Creecy, has published three important regulations for implementation namely:

  • Revised Regulations Pertaining to Threatened or Protected Terrestrial Species and Freshwater Species (TOPS Regulations), and the associated Species List for implementation. The Regulations and species list were published on 3 February 2023 in Government Gazette No. 47984 (Notice No. 3009) in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) and will take effect on 01 April 2023.
  • Revised national Norms and Standards for the Management of Elephants in South Africa (Elephant Norms and Standards) for implementation. These norms and standards were published in Government Gazette 47984 (Notice No. 3010) on 3 February 2023 and will take effect on 01 April 2023. 
  • Revised Leopard Norms and Standards were published in Government Gazette 47984 (Notice No. 3011) on 3 February 2023 in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004), which take effect on 01 April 2023.

These three regulations provide key revisions, or critical missing regulations, and have been developed by the department over a ten-year period. The Minister signed off on their publication for implementation because of the extensive work that has gone into their production, while noting, that these regulations do not give proper effect to the recommendations of the High-Level Panel or the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity which is currently in the Cabinet system for approval.

Last year prior to finalisation of these regulations, the Minister took advice on these new regulations in the light of the High-Level Panel recommendations and the White Paper Policy process. This advice highlighted areas that were inconsistent with the current policy process and also considered the urgency of the revisions, and the value that they would add in the interim until another revision could be finalised. The advice received was to continue with the implementation of these regulations, but to ensure that further revisions will be undertaken in the future.

The purpose of the Elephant Norms and Standards is, among others, to ensure that elephants are managed in South Africa in a way that ensures the long-term survival of elephants within the ecosystems in which they occur or may occur in future; promotes broader biodiversity and socio-economic goals that are ecologically, socially and economically sustainable; does not disrupt the ecological integrity of the ecosystems in which elephants occur; enables the achievement of specific management objectives of the properties on which they occur; and ensures their sustainable consumptive and non-consumptive use.

It should be noted that the previous and revised Elephant Norms and Standards already encapsulate some of the key aspects raised in the High-Level Panel Report, including to ensure their well-being and biologically healthy populations; and recognising their sentient nature, highly organised social structure and ability to communicate.

The Norms and Standards also recognise the necessary and persistent interplay between ethics, the well-being of elephants and conservation, and human well-being, which encapsulates the One Welfare approach recommended by the High-Level Panel.

Because, elephants often exist in close proximity to people, the Norms and Standards require that management measures must endeavour to limit these threats. The High-Level Panel raised the issue of fence maintenance and proactive approaches to mitigate risks.

The Norms and Standard provide for a minimum fencing standard, and this must be properly implemented, including continual fence maintenance. The Department is currently undertaking major research to look at damage causing animals, including elephants, and this will inform future Norms and Standards, fully taking into account the Panel recommendations. 

One of the key changes to the Elephant Norms and Standards involves the strengthening of provisions relating to management plans, which are compulsory for owners or managers of elephants, while at the same time providing more flexibility in terms of emergency management interventions.

The management plan is now valid for 10 years, which reduces the administrative burden on owners and managers. The Norms and Standards also now provide for the issuing authority to appoint a panel of specialists to assist with the evaluation of the management plan, which will ensure plans are effectively scrutinised and improved.

Another key amendment involves the inclusion of a provision to enable research on methods for elephant management interventions that are currently not included in the Norms and Standards. However, this should not be seen as a loophole to avoid the restrictions on management contained in the Norms and Standards, but rather recognises that innovations can further improve the options for responsible management of elephants.

Importantly, such research must be in accordance with the principles of the Norms and Standards, including those mentioned above, and must also be approved by an accredited Animal Ethics Committee. Therefore, interventions that intentionally or unintentionally cause stress or disturbance to elephants would not be acceptable as a research project.

The purpose of the revised Leopard Norms and Standards is to manage the hunting of leopards in order to reduce the impact of hunting on the stability of the leopard population, as well as to ensure that trophy hunting is carried out in an ecologically sustainable manner. The Norms and Standards also establish mechanisms to set a leopard hunting quota based on assessment of the sustainability of the off-take.

The leopard Norms and Standards take an innovative approach, of establishing leopard hunting zones. However, it should be noted that leopard hunting zones provide for a maximum of one leopard to be hunted per zone per annum.

To ensure that hunting is ecologically sustainable and does not disrupt the stability of the leopard population, the Norms and Standards require that only male leopards may be hunted, and that these are a minimum of seven years old. This will ensure that these male leopards have had the opportunity to contribute their genetics to the population, enhancing the genetic integrity of the leopard population. The Scientific Authority will advise if hunting quotas will impact negatively on leopard population viability.

The purpose of the TOPS Regulations and Species List is to further regulate the permit system set out in Chapter 7 of NEMBA for restricted activities involving listed threatened or protected species; to provide for the registration and regulation of, inter alia, rehabilitation facilities, sanctuaries, commercial exhibition facilities, nurseries, game farms, and wildlife translocators, as defined in the regulations; to regulate the manner in which specific restricted activities may be carried out; to prohibit the manner in which specific restricted activities may be carried out; and to provide for the composition and operating procedures of the Scientific Authority.

The TOPS Regulations include a number of restrictions applicable to freshwater ecosystems, which is one of the most threatened ecosystems. Furthermore, the TOPS Regulations once again include lion in the definition for “listed large predator”, with the implication that the hunting of lion in a controlled environment is explicitly prohibited. The previous regulations, only prohibited the hunting of lion in a small enclosure where it is trapped against a fence and does not have a fair chance to evade the hunter.

The Species List includes a number of newly listed species that are in dire need of protection at the national level due to inadequate or inconsistent protection at the provincial level. Linked with the expanded list of species is the provision of exemptions in terms of section 57(4) of NEMBA, which has not been implemented to date. Given existing capacity, it would be impossible to regulate the scope of restricted activities envisaged by NEMBA, in respect of all the species included in the list, without exempting the restricted activities that do not require to be regulated, for example, buying a seedling of a listed plant from a registered nursery.

Importantly, the TOPS regulations include the condition that no specimens of critically endangered species or listed large predators originating from wild populations may be introduced into captivity, except for conservation purposes, as well as that free roaming predators including cheetah and leopard do not become owned when a game farm is registered. There is also a compulsory requirement for issuing authorities to establish and maintain a register on all permits and registrations issued, renewed or amended, and to report the information to the Department. All of these aspects will give effect to some of the recommendations of the Panel.

Of note are the revisions in TOPS for including on the Scientific Authority representatives from the National Department of Agriculture, Tertiary institutions, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Agricultural Research Council. This will increase the capacity of the Scientific Authority to better undertake its mandated work.

The implementation of the revised TOPS Regulations coincides with the implementation of the Coordinated and Integrated Permit System (CIPS), which will go live on 01 April 2023.

The CIPS will be implemented by the Issuing Authorities to:

  • standardise the application, assessment, permit conditions and approval process for the permit applications involving listed TOPS;
  • provide for online permit application to fast-track service delivery, thereby maximising efficiency and resource use, while meeting the needs of the regulated community; and
  • provide for record-keeping and statistical reports.

The DFFE will conduct roadshows in the provinces with interested and affected parties to raise awareness in the implementation of the TOPS Regulations.

In the meantime, stakeholders are advised to register interest to attend roadshows on

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