Animal Welfare: The Necessity for Restructuring

Posted onLeave a commentCategoriesgovernance, legislation, welfare

In a recent article in Daily Maverick, Pierre de Vos highlighted the need for a revision of South African animal anti-cruelty law:

“I would suggest that it would be helpful to have an honest debate about the issue. If we have to justify why we wish to have some animals protected from cruelty while others are not, it might force us to rethink our attitude towards animals. In any case, whether such a debate occurs or not, it seems to me the time has come to review the outdated legislation on the issue of animal cruelty.” ~ Pierre de Vos,

I agree. The Animals Protection Act is currently under revision by DAFF (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests), and it is a timely process. The APA is hopelessly inconsistent in respect of it’s application to the different ways in which we categorise animals. The categories – ‘companion’, ‘food’, ‘performing’, ‘wild’, and ‘service’ animals are all regarded differently by humans, whether from a functional or ethical perspective. These categories are arbitrarily defined by human needs; the differences between a horse (companion/performing/service animal) and a cow (food animal) are negligible, but due to human commodification of animals, they are treated differently. That this is inconsistent should be obvious, The existing APA tries to be all things to all animals, and in so doing does nothing for any. Animal Agriculture breaks every provision in the APA on a daily basis, but the public looks the other way…

But there is also an urgent need to revise the structure of animal welfare in South Africa. Animal welfare organisations are under significant pressure, operating under greater demands from a diminishing resource base.

There are more than 250 animal welfare organisations in South Africa, of which 89 are SPCA’s, 6 are AACL’s and 5 are Animal Welfare Society members. The rest are independents, who have not become SPCA’s because they differ in principle with SPCA policies. The NSPCA, the governing and controlling body of the SPCA’s, is unwilling to work with other organisations and has historically insisted on taking a dominant and even dictatorial role in animal welfare issues in SA. Their influence on legislation carries disproportionate weight, partly because Government has informally granted them greater access to decision-makers and more input into issues pertaining to animal welfare.

At a time when vast parts of the country are without SPCA’s or any other animal welfare bodies, one would have expected the number of Societies to grow in order to meet the ever increasing animal welfare needs. During the past 10 years or so the number of SPCA’s has actually declined after closure of Societies. In some cases the NSPCA have taken over Management of local SPCA branches.. Large parts of SA remain without the services of any animal welfare organisation or body. Even the largest franchise, the SPCA, covers less than 30% of SA. Furthermore in addition to totally inadequate coverage, many bodies function without properly qualified staff or volunteers in respect of animal husbandry, first aid, or legal knowledge.

Many people incorrectly see the NSPCA as the “Head Office” of the SPCA franchise, as in large corporation structures. This has allowed the NSPCA to “boss” Societies when in fact the only mandate the NSPCA has is to inspect and monitor Societies to ensure that they function within the prescribed parameters of the SPCA Act and the Rules formulated under the SPCA Act.

At the same time, the pro-life independent sector has grown and continues to do so, with more and more organisations surfacing to combat what has now become a crisis in which the available resource base is still insufficient to meet the demands placed upon it by an ignorant and self-indulgent society. The growth of independent pro-life organisations is more than anything else an indicator that the SPCA philosophy and ethos is incompatible with animal-lovers’ aspirations and expectations. It has been a long time since the last SPCA was founded.

The NSPCA claims that it is the only organisation that may qualify and register Inspectors and this is partly due to a lack of knowledge on the part of other welfare organisations and partly due to their lack of resources. Other organisations have been known to employ and register inspectors, notably Barking Mad, Wetnose and AACL Up until now, there has been no law stating that only the NSPCA may train or qualify Inspectors.

In the Animal Protection Bill, gazetted 30 Nov 2107, which focuses on protection for animal in research and animal testing, there is a provision that is worrying:

5. Section 8 of the principal Act is hereby amended by the addition after subsection (4) of the following subsection:
‘‘(5) An officer contemplated in sub-section (1) shall have an inspector’s qualification recognised by the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals established by section 2(1) of the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1993 (Act No. 169 of 1993).’’.

Section (1) states: If authorized thereto by writing under the hand of the magistrate of a district, any officer of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals may in that district…
“any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals” means any welfare organisation; it is in small letters not caps so it does not refer to SPCA’s, as stated in de Vos’ article. The term was only specified to mean SPCA’s in the SPCA Act in 1993; a term cannot be made to apply retrospectively to legislation enacted 32 years before.
This additional provision means (implied by the word ‘shall’) that only an inspector qualification recognised by NSPCA may be an officer in terms of the Act. Not only is this anticompetitive and therefore unconstitutional, but also indicates the known NSPCA ambition to be the ‘head’ of animal welfare in SA.

By doing this, NSPCA is attempting to ensure that only inspectors trained by them will be qualified. I think this is a major problem in that it propagates the NSPCA mindset in perpetuity (the current training and qualifications are prejudiced in favour of the SPCA ethos), and reinforces the idea, in the public mind, that the NSPCA has authority over other welfare organisations. I would also argue that the current inspector qualification omits two important competencies; animal ethics and animal ethology.

The development and qualification of inspectors should be administered by an independent body. If all inspectors are trained and employed by NSPCA, then it is the organisations’ agenda that will be driven rather than the needs of the animals or the animal-loving public. The police should be independent of any organisation, in the principle of separation of the state and judiciary. The NSPCA is just an NPO. The fact that it is governed by an Act of Parliament does not confer on it any special powers; the Act is merely an internal governance document.

Why did the NSPCA develop an Act of Parliament in order to govern SPCA’s, given that the SPCA Act is nothing more than a governance document and has no application to other welfare organisations? Why was it necessary to promulgate an Act for an internal governance document? Was it created in mind of ambitions to be recognised as the legal governing body of animal welfare in SA? If it was, it must be opposed. It makes no sense to allow an organisation that is top-down, ‘power’ oriented, with an ethos that is demonstrably losing relevance, as well as a controlling mindset, to be granted greater influence and control over animal welfare issues.

In addition, why is Dr MM Mathonsi of the Directorate Veterinary Public Health, DAFF on the Board? Surely the Dept of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries, which supports the abuses of animal agriculture in SA, has an agenda in continuing their exploitation and abuse? Is the presence of a DAFF official not a conflict of interests? Dr Mathonsi heads up the Directorate Veterinary Public Health, which means his primary goal is to ensure human health and safety in the use (exploitation) of animals. The animals themselves are commodities and their well-being is instrumental in relation to the protection of humans; so whether they are in pain or suffering emotional deprivation is not a consideration. It seems a double standard to have a fox in the group overseeing the henhouse.

The exclusion of independents in issues pertaining to animal welfare such as legislation, policy, policing and roles also implies that all the thought leadership is contained within the NSPCA. Given the degree to which the SPCA franchise have been late adopters of innovations like the Internet and social media, and the fact that they do very little education and sterilisation, (no ‘prevention’, mainly reaction) they are arguably exactly the wrong type of organisation and culture to be given authority or a leadership mandate for animal welfare in South Africa.

Who governs the NSPCA and who inspects SPCA’s? Are they automatically above reproach? When allegations have been levelled at SPCA branches for negligence or cruelty, the NSPCA has closed ranks, and the issue has ‘gone away’.

Authority must vest in the community, not in an aging Dinosaur that is no longer in tune with the public ethos, which is cognisant of the sentience of animals and changing in respect of ethical consideration of animals.

It’s time for all organisations and individuals in SA with an interest in the well-being of animals to talk about restructuring the animal welfare sector. As it stands, it is not inclusive, coherent or consistent.


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The Long-Term Effects of Wildlife ‘Use’

Posted onCategoriesgovernance, wildlife

Regarding wildlife as a commodity to manage sustainably has become part of our conservation protocol over the years and is often employed as a strategy to alleviate poverty. But how will this affect the environment we rely on for survival in the long- term?

On 20 December 2016, Sanparks published an article on their site citing that the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr BEE Molewa, has approved the rezoning of the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area (MPA) to allow limited fishing by members of local communities. Prior to this the DEA has cited that one of its reasons for the move is that the Tsitsikamma has an unemployment rate of 50 percent. The announcement follows Sanparks’ move last year to open the Kruger Park to “culling” by local communities.

This example illustrates a growing trend to kill/cull/harvest wildlife in protected areas in South Africa in spite of the warnings made by scientists claiming that these moves will bring long-term environmental disaster. The approach allows for the exploitation of the protected reserves and abuse of the law as short term financial interest and greed (human nature) have shown to direct people’s actions in cases like this.

Wildlife as a commodity and our disconnect from nature

Since early civilisation, we have been physically moving away from nature. The rise of agriculture and our move out of rural areas into towns has separated us from our food source processes. We are out of touch with nature and our dependence of the planet as this crucial awareness falls outside of our daily lives

This disconnection is exacerbated by globalised consumerism, instant gratification and the manner in which technology shapes our current lifestyles.

In Southern Africa around 1652, when the Dutch arrived in the Cape, set up farms and then conducted an unprecedented slaughter on our wildlife, our relationship to nature changed drastically.

The late 19th century saw the passage of the first pieces of wildlife conservation legislation and the establishment of the first nature conservation societies.

Before the Dutch arrived in 1652, the indigenous people lived harmoniously with wild animals, learning from them about medicinal herbs and natural food sources. Their livestock was protected by using herdsmen and they shared their crops with the wild animals that came to eat from them. Living like this ensured that people were reminded daily of their important connection to nature and they respected other life forms as a result.

The objectification of wildlife and regarding it as a commodity was not born from African culture.

In his book, Isilwane the Animal, Credo Mutwa describes how African people did not see us humans as separate from nature in the past. He describes how African tribes respected nature and our interconnectedness with the Earth by holding wild animals as their totems – a system which served to preserve the environment and showed a clear respect for a healthy biodiversity. “The African people knew, just as the native American people knew, that if you destroy the environment, you will ultimately destroy the human race. A remarkable Tswana proverb states that, “He who buries the tree, will next bury the wild animal, and after that, bury his own ox, and ultimately bury his own children.”

This indicates that people were aware, even in ancient times, of the interdependence on all living creatures upon this Earth, and that if you harm one, you harm others and in the end, yourself.

Is the use of Wildlife Sustainable?

The concept of sustainable use has been pushed as a sound wildlife management tool which appears to work in theory. In practice however, it has involved far more “use” and not much sustainability. Sustainable use only works in the short term, bringing in its wake, long terms disastrous damage.

History has shown that it generally results in the over-exploitation and decimation of the species involved.

The sustainable use of wildlife can either be consumptive or non-consumptive:

Consumptive use:

The killing, trapping and capturing of wild animals for commerce (for ivory, the pet trade, biomedical research) or recreation (sport hunting, entertainment).

Non-consumptive use:

An activity that generates income without harming animals or removing them from their habitats.

Depletion of species used is almost always a foregone conclusion because of several factors, some being:

  1. The short term financial interest and greed (human nature) of the users.
  2. Inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations
  3. The inability to predict the outcome of our attempts to manage wild animals with any degree of accuracy.

These factors and results have almost, without exception, characterised past efforts at consumptive management and the commercial use of wildlife species.

Examples of damaged wildlife populations

Treating wildlife as a commodity has resulted in damaged wildlife populations.

According to the IUCN, (September 2016) Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching. (

Poaching of rhinos for their horns has reached unprecedented levels. While ten years ago, a mere 25 rhinos were poached, the number poached in 2015 estimated at between 5,042 and 5,455 rhinos.

New surveys and estimates suggest that the lion has disappeared from about 80 percent of its African range and the pangolin (threatened with extinction) has become the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Damage-Causing Animals

Wild species that are perceived to be in competition with agriculture and forestry are generally painted as healthy and plentiful in spite of the fact that their populations are not monitored. The reason for this is to keep the real damage done to these species hidden from the public so that agriculture can appear to be justified in persecuting them.

In Southern Africa, “problem” species have historically been fatally injured and killed in exceptionally cruel ways – poison, gin traps, bow and arrows, dog hunting packs, barbed wire are some of many methods that have been used.

The Wild Dog – once perceived to be a “problem animal” or “damage causing animal”, has been exterminated from large parts of Africa and is an example of how a species that is not monitored, is plagued by misconceptions and is encouraged to be persecuted by legislation and ignorance can become highly endangered due to the message of disrespect conveyed by the consumptive use camp. Today the Wild Dog is one of the continent’s most rarely encountered animals. Other Southern African species that suffer similar effects as perceived “problem animals”, are likely to go the same way unless there is change.

The vervet monkey and chacma baboon are generally believed to be healthy due to that fact that they are “commonly” seen in certain areas but the damage caused to troop structures , and how this impacts on related ecosystems has not been taken into consideration. As a result those that work hands-on with these species report a dwindling in numbers and troop structure damage that has a ripple effect on future generations and all related systems.

Founded as the Botswana Wild Dog Research Project in 1989, the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) has expanded to cover all the large carnivore species in Botswana. It is one of the longest-running large predator research projects in Africa and one of only a handful of its calibre worldwide.

BPCT research on wild dogs has made it abundantly clear that the health and welfare of the entire predator population is a key indication of overall health of the ecosystem.

Preservationists and animal protectionists have begun to realise the importance of focussing not only on endangered species but on working towards a healthy biodiversity.

In his book Animals In Peril, ex chief executive, John Hoyt from the HSUS, says:

“Whales were supposedly sustainably exploited for decades under the careful scientific management regime of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – until all eight species of great whales were pronounced endangered.

Sustainable use did not work with such developed North American resources such as grizzly bears, ducks, californian sardines, ancient forests, or just about anything else that has supposedly been managed, conserved, exploited , utilized or harvested on a sustained yield basis.

Not even white tailed deer which have thrived, can be considered an unmitigated management success. Creating and maintaining a “harvestable surplus” of deer has adversely affected other species, and has been achived by the removal of old growth forests and predators.”

The “Damage” Caused by Elephants Benefits Biodiversity

Although things may not look particularly pretty to the human eye does not necessarily mean that it is detrimental to all the life that is there. Studies showing environmental benefits conducted by elephants, that are often perceived to be environmentally damaging, illustrate how inadequate scientific knowledge about wildlife populations can be destructive to the environment. It has been noted that:

”Areas heavily damaged by elephants are home to more species of amphibians and reptiles than areas where the beasts are excluded” – (African Journal of Ecology).

“Elephants, along with a number of other species, are considered to be ecological engineers because their activities modify the habitat in a way that affects many other species. They will do everything from digging with their front legs, pulling up grass to knocking down big trees. So they actually change the shape of the landscape.” – Bruce Schulte

The elephants’ digestive system is not very good at processing many of the seeds that they eat. Their faeces are a great fertiliser – elephants are also able to rejuvenate the landscape by transporting seeds elsewhere. Scientists have concluded that difference in abundance and species richness in “damaged areas” was probably a result of engineering by elephants, generating new habitats for a diverse array of frog species.

Why we need a healthy environment to survive

The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity and the survival of our species is dependent on this.

“At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.” ~ The Convention about Life on Earth, Convention on Biodiversity web site.

How a healthy biodiversity affects you

Ecosystem services, such as

    • Protection of water resources
    • Soils formation and protection
    • Nutrient storage and recycling
    • Pollution breakdown and absorption
    • Contribution to climate stability
    • Maintenance of ecosystems
    • Recovery from unpredictable events

Biological resources, such as

    • Food
    • Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
    • Wood products
    • Ornamental plants
    • Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
    • Future resources
    • Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems

Social benefits, such as

    • Research, education and monitoring
    • Recreation and tourism
    • Cultural values

All living things are necessary for Biodiversity – sun, water, plants, insects, reptiles, mammals, soil, fungi and bacteria are some examples of these life forms. The variety of living things all act together to make the web of life work. Over time this variety has been dangerously reduced by one species – humans.

The consequences of this ensure that the present destructive events will continue until it is too late; unless we bring about serious, sustainable change.


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