The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) recently condemned the opening of a zoo in Mpuamlanga, generating renewed "disappointment" from owners Hennie and Melanie Maritz's attorney, Mandla Macbeth Ncongwane.
NSPCA wildlife protection unit inspector Nicole Venter told The Citizen that as a matter of principle, it is categorically opposed to zoos.
Mpumalanga is set to get its first zoo in 2021, which has caused controversy among animal rights and welfare organisations, who feel it is not necessary or educational.
The zoo is currently 80% complete. It has cost between R7 million and R9 million so far to construct, and will have an on-site restaurant and accommodation facilities.
Venter explained that welfare concerns for animal captivity are due to conditions going against their natural behaviour.
This, Venter said, is not what the NSPCA deems "good education", and sends an incorrect message with an "unrealistic approach".
"Wild animals don't flourish in captivity. A lot of facilities say they're committed to providing good care for the animals, but sometimes they mislead the public. The NSPCA is not opposed to captivity for bonafide conservation purposes."
This means, among other issues, no breeding.
Ncongwane told The Citizen last week that all animals at the facility are in the process of being sterilised.
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Lowvelder, which has visited the facility, reported that there are currently more than 100 animals at the zoo, including lions, leopards, Bengal and Siberian tigers, pumas and jaguars, an ocelot, caracals, servals, Polecats, eagles, falcons and buck. Bears, a honey badger and more bird species are joining the facility soon.
Photo: Lowvelder/Stefan de Villiers
In response to the NSPCA's condemnation of the zoo, Pumba Wildlife issued a counter-statement on Monday, accusing the NSPCA of not being neutral, and of "siding with a minority group who does not want the park in Mpumalanga based on privilege."
"To come out at this time to climb on the bandwagon with reckless organisations such as BAT and EMS foundation is really unfortunate, as we would have expected the SPCA to stick to their functions and objectives of making sure that animals are not ill-treated and that there is no cruelty against any animals."
Ncongwane told The Citizen he feels the NSPCA's conduct is "improper", and condemned them for "not asking us what the role of the zoo will play."
He said despite the Mbombela SPCA giving the zoo's animals and enclosures the all-clear, the criticism started with the White River SPCA, which went to national office.
"They're playing into the hands of welfare groups without giving us a chance to explain."
Ncongwane added that the NSPCA's statement is tantamount to "economic sabotage".
He accused the association of using illegally obtained information and using it without following the law, and said the zoo is not the only one in the spotlight – according to Ncongwane, people are regularly being "falsely accused" of being involved in the illegal wildlife trade involving rhinos and other endangered species.
"We are fully under the guidance of the rule of law. There's nothing wrong with expressing your view, but everything wrong if you want to influence a narrative that infringes on another person's rights."
Venter emphasised that there were telltale signs that breeding and trade could possibly take place, especially when referencing the term "biological bank" – referred to by Ncongwane as an educational opportunity for further research into local and exotic species.
Venter explained that the statement was the opinion of the NSPCA, adding that the association does not want to fight. There is no personal vendetta, she continued, but said the NSPCA will always speak up when it comes to welfare.
"Wildlife is being exploited, and it is frustrating. We are supposed to be moving away from captivity."
She referenced the toxic circle of captive breeding in South Africa, saying that facilities such as the Mpumalanga zoo feeds into that cycle, in a trade where quelling demand is key to stopping it.
"As long as it's a captive facility, we will inspect, and if need be, take appropriate further action."
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