By Sharon Atieno

The World Animal Protection is urging the South African Government to put an end to the commercial captive lion breeding industry.

There are about 8,000 lions held in captivity across South Africa which are exploited as entertainment attractions for tourists, either as part of canned trophy hunting ( hunting of captive-bred wild animals in small enclosures with no chance of escape) or as interactive encounters like cub petting and ‘walk with lions’ experiences and voluntourism.

According to a report by the animal welfare organization, these lions undergo immense suffering due to a lack of adherence to good animal welfare practices. These include being severely neglected and starved to save farm owners money thus, resulting in instances of lion cannibalism.

They are kept in decrepit, filthy, and barren enclosures littered with old food carcasses and piles of faeces which is unhealthy.  The lions also suffer inhumane and unhygienic slaughter processes, with their entrails spilled over the floor, and skin peeled back from their paws and skulls.

“Even as experienced researchers, we were deeply disturbed by the cruel practices taking place. It is sickening to see these majestic mammals reduced to mere commodities kept in merciless conditions,” Dr. Neil D’Cruze, World Animal Protection’s Global Head of Wildlife Research.

The Group has also found that some of the farms are using South Africa’s legal lion breeding and canned hunting industry to cover their involvement in the illegal international export of lion bones for use in traditional Asian medicine.

The Lion body parts are not only traded for traditional medicine but parts such as claws and teeth are made into jewellery and their skins are sold as luxury goods.

Additionally, hundreds of captive-bred live lions are also exported annually, predominantly to China, Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, mostly to zoos, for commercial purposes, and breeding in captivity

In 2021, the South African Government announced its intention to immediately halt the domestication and exploitation of lions, and to ultimately close all captive lion facilities in South Africa.

But in late 2022, the government backtracked on its commitment and instructed a Ministerial Task Team to develop and implement a voluntary exit strategy and pathways for captive lion facilities.

The World Animal Protection believes that solely relying on voluntary phaseouts dilutes the goal of ending commercial captive lion breeding for good. Thus, recommend that voluntary exit options should only serve as a starting point, followed by a mandatory phase-out based on what is learned during the voluntary phase.

Similarly, the organization’s local partner NGO, Blood Lions, has called on the South African Government to bring a mandatory time-bound end to the industry as it will make detecting and preventing the illegal trade easier at the same time.

“Only then our reputation as a leader in conservation will be restored, and the welfare of the country’s captive lions and other big cats ensured,” Dr. Louise de Waal, Director, and Campaign Manager of Blood Lions, said.