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.
Three years after the conclusion of the panel of experts, the future of South Africa’s captive lions remains unsure.
Simone Eckhardt, Stichting SPOTS