What’s important as 2023 gets underway?
In 2020, a panel of experts advised the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) to stop the lion breeding industry in South Africa.
This led to the Minister officially communicating in 2021 that she would follow this advice. This announced the future end of tourist attractions with bred lions, the end of canned hunting and the end of the export of lion skeletons to Asia, where they are processed in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
The decision has caused enormous turmoil among lion breeders in South Africa.
Reports of neglected lions on breeding farms appear on a regular basis in the media, because breeders refuse to take care of the animals since there is no future ‘earning model’ anymore. NSPCA (the animal protection body of South Africa) called on the Ministry to take quick action as they are increasingly confronted with distressing situations of starving lions.
As the panel of experts also indicated that they saw no other solution than to euthanise the estimated 8000+ bred lions, there was also a stir from animal organisations.
The responsible Minister of DFFE, Barbara Creecy, stated in 2022 that there are so many reactions as well as recommendations surrounding the captive lion industry that she wants to set up a task team to map out all recommendations, to advise on the collaboration with lion breeders and to understand if all lions need to be euthanized or not.
Another task would be to get insight in the number of lions per breeder, how many petting farms there still are and to get insight in the amount of stored lion skeletons. Audits of breeders will follow.
The task team must also look at how to accommodate breeders who want to participate in the phasing out of the industry.
For example, there would be possibilities of compensation. This should be done in consultation with other stakeholders such as lion sanctuaries. They could eventually take in lions from these breeders.
For the breeders who do not cooperate, the future will be difficult. The business model will come to an end, that much is clear. But because distressing cases such as malnourished lions are now regularly reported, it is expected that the rules and enforcement on animal welfare will need to be strengthened. Through the task team, lion breeders are given a last chance to comply.
Almost three years after the conclusion of the panel of experts, the future of South Africa’s captive lions remains unsure.
Some background information:
Decline of the lion population
In 1950 there were over 400.000 lions roaming the plains of Africa. Today, probably less than 20.000 lions are classified as “wild” and considered as living in their natural habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) states that the lion population has decreased 43% in the last 21 years.
The survival of wild lions is threatened by:
• Humans encroaching on wildlife territory
• Human/wildlife conflict resulting in e.g. poisoning
• Diseases such as TBC, distemper, FIV, sarcoptic mange etc.
• Snaring of wild lions for bushmeat (especially in Western and Central Africa)
• Hunting and poaching
At the same time, we have seen an increase in captive held lions to the extent that there are now more captive than wild lions. Lions are used for entertainment in circuses and increasingly as a “status”-pet. The country with the most captive held lions is South Africa, legally supporting a massive breeding industry. Cub petting and lion walks have become an integral part of tourism in South Africa.
The captive lion breeding industry in South Africa
Although the South African captive lion breeding industry has recently gathered lots of media attention, it has actually been around for over 20 years. It was first highlighted in a BBC investigative documentary called the Cook Report in 1997. In 1998, Gareth Patterson (wildlife expert, author and public speaker who is known internationally for his work protecting lions and elephants) published his book called „Dying to be free“. He exposed the myths of South Africa’s conservation image and how, even at present, these myths are largely believed and unquestioned. At the turn of the millenium, animal activists and wildlife warriors Chris Mercer and Beverley Pervan started campaigning and ultimately founded CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) in 2007. In recent years, campaigns by Four Paws, Born Free and Blood Lions have gained wide media attention.
Captive lion breeding is a huge income stream in South Africa. Over 8000 lions are currently held captive in 200+ farms. Each lion is exploited from the day he is born, until the day he dies. Lion farmers have reduced “the King of Beasts” to a commodity, not very different from intensive livestock farming.
It should also be noted that interactions with lions are not limited to South Africa, these activities have become increasingly popular in other African countries and indeed across the world.
Continue to Cub petting and volunteers
Award-winning documentary "Blood Lions"
Main image courtesy of Chelui4lions