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.
Main image courtesy of Chelui4lions