Newborn lion cubs are taken from their mothers when they are just a few days old. This is psychologically damaging both for mother and cubs.
Being separated from her cubs brings the lioness back into estrus (heat) almost immediately and the reproductive cycle starts again. She will probably go on to deliver cubs two or three times in one year. This is very unnatural and not different from a puppy mill, since wild lions will only have cubs every second or third year. Lion farms have a limited gene pool, so often cubs are disfigured or crippled because of inbreeding.
Every year a huge number of volunteers come to “work” with lions and are lured there by lion farmers on the premise that they are working on a conservation project that will help save the species. Lion farmers tell volunteers that the mother has abandoned her cubs or can’t produce milk, so they need to be handraised. Of course, many volunteers are attracted to the prospect of nursing and caring for lion cubs. They are made to believe that once the lions are adults, they will be released into the wild. Firstly, this is prohibited in South Africa and secondly, not possible because their habituation to humans. The lions will either go to a managed reserve, a zoo or as is most often the case, they will be sold to hunting outfitters.
Clever lion farmers charge on average 800 € per week per volunteer to take care of the lion cubs. With an average of 5 volunteers per week, they can easily make 208.000 €/year (from this activity alone) .
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Main image courtesy of Chelui4lions, additional image courtesy of Sarah Dyer