South African Parliament approved an amendment into its Animal Improvement Act (AIA) which governs livestock breeding, to include 33 wild species into its list of farm animals. Among the animals include Cape buffalos, mountain zebras, lions, giraffe, white and black rhinos, cheetahs.
The Act allows for the manipulation of genetically superior animals to increase production or performance by licensed animal breeders, through artificial insemination, collection of semen and embryos as well as genetic materials which are evaluated, processed, packed and sold, a common practice with traditional farm animals.
According to SA’s Department of Environment Forestry and Fisheries, the amendment was made “due to changing farming systems in South Africa, game animals are included as these are already part of farm animal production systems in the country” but will still be subject to requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEMBA).
When the public raised questions about the amendment, the government said that no public participation process to such an amendment was required and that it followed a 2017 request from the game breeder societies to facilitate game farming production. This strong lobby from the wildlife industry to have control of wildlife breeding moved to agriculture, could have worrying implications with a grey area within which violations of animal welfare could flourish.
The South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association says it’s gravely concerned about the amendment that puts animals such as black wildebeest at risk of genetic manipulation and genetic pollution. According to a conservation manager at SA hunters, breeding practices such as genetic manipulation and cross-breeding of wildlife are in conflict with existing biodiversity conservation legislation that protects indigenous wildlife and maintains the genetic integrity of wildlife species for current and future generations.
“Conservation of wildlife is best done by preserving wild animals in their natural habitat. In this way, whole ecosystems and a range of other species are protected. The story sold by the wildlife industry is that so many more hectares are under wildlife but farming is not in a natural habitat and becomes just farmland when done intensively,” said National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals director.