New survey: Lion breeding industry harming South Africa’s reputation

A nationwide survey, by the Humane Society International (HSI), has revealed that the majority of South Africans believe the captive lion breeding industry is harming the country’s international reputation.

This announcement comes on the first of a two-day South African Parliamentary inquiry into the lion breeding industry. According to the study, South Africans demonstrate a deep dislike of activities associated with the lion breeding industry, including trophy hunting and canned hunting of tame lions, and are also concerned that the trade in lion bones will stimulate market demand leading to increased poaching of lions and big cats.

The results showed the following:

• That South Africans, by more than a three to one margin, agree that the industry is harming South Africa’s international reputation, with 65% strongly agreeing/agreeing, and 21% strongly disagreeing/disagreeing;

• More broadly, 56% of South Africans fully oppose/oppose to some extent trophy hunting, 60% fully oppose/oppose to some extent canned lion hunting;

• And by nearly a six to one margin, 77% strongly agree/agree with conservationists who say that the trade in lion bones will stimulate market demand leading to increased poaching of lions and big cats.

Results followed the recent local and global backlash against an announcement by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs that it would allow 1,500 captive-bred lion skeletons to be exported this year, nearly double last year’s export quota of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons. South Africa’s lion breeding industry has been under the spotlight since the 2015 release of the award-winning film Blood Lions® and the eponymous Blood Lions Campaign, of which Humane Society International is a partner.

“These polling results demonstrate that South Africans are overwhelmingly concerned industry is harming South Africa’s international reputation,” said Audrey Delsink, executive director of HSI/Africa. “The captive lion breeding and the lion bone trade is South Africa’s claim to shame. Last year’s bone export quota of 800 was shocking enough: the increase to 1,500 in 2018 has no scientific basis and is a blatant license to kill for the lion breeding industry.”

At the same time, a new report from the South African Institute of International Affairs, commissioned by HSI, found that captive lion breeding industry revenue – from lion cub petting and lion walking tourist attractions – is less than 2% of South Africa’s tourism revenue. Yet, the study finds the lion breeding industry as a whole, including these attractions as well as canned lion hunting and skeleton exports, may seriously undermine the international reputation of South Africa and harm the tourism industry. The study concluded that, “the opportunity costs and negative externalities associated with the predator breeding industry may – along with other threats facing wild lion survival – undermine South Africa’s brand attractiveness as a tourism destination by up to R54.51 bn over the next decade.”

Delsink says that public opinion and scientific analysis show that, instead of bolstering this unpopular industry by allowing the export of captive-bred lion skeletons, the South African government should be shutting it down. “The South African government can no longer justify a scandalous industry that is condemned by the South African public, only benefits the pockets of breeders and traders, and threatens to seriously damage South Africa’s tourism sector.”

The survey results can be viewed here.


• According to a report submitted to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee in July 2018, Vietnam was the largest importer of lion bodies and the second largest importer of skeletons. Lao People’s Democratic Republic was the largest importer of lion bones and skeletons. The United States was the largest importer of lion trophies. The report suggested that some lion poaching and trafficking involves organised criminal groups, and seizures alongside other commodities such as rhino horn indicate that these groups are dealing in multiple species.

• Read The Extinction Business: Lion bone trade threatens world’s big cats – an investigative report by EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading that reveals startling and alarming factors that have a significant negative impact on worldwide big cat conservation.

Press release by Humane Society International/Africa

Brand South Africa: Being Shot To Shreds

A new scientific report, The Economics of Captive Predator Breeding in South Africa is about to be released.

And one of its principle findings is that South Africa’s brand attractiveness could lose over R54 billion in the next decade to negative publicity from the predator breeding industry and all the related commercial operations using lions and other species. This and the other consequential findings listed below add to the already substantial body of evidence stacked against these notorious industries.

Authored by Ross Harvey from the South African Institute of International Affairs (, the lengthy report comprises two sections. The first is a formal academic review of the scientific and ‘grey’ literature, some of which is being used by those involved in attempts to justify their activities, and the second part deals with the conservation and economic claims being made, including the most recent lion bone quota of 1 500 carcasses awarded by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA).

According to Harvey, “perhaps the most surprising finding was the sheer extent to which the skeleton quota numbers for the last two years (from 800 to 1 500) appear to have no grounding in science. Also startling is how little reliable economic analysis has been conducted on this clandestine industry.”

The cruelty and brutality that comes with the industrial-scale farming of lions in South Africa has been well-documented by Blood Lions and others, as has the callous killing of the animals by unethical hunters. In the past, these twin horrors have been the ugly face of this industry, but as Harvey’s report indicates, the burgeoning lion bone trade as well as the cub petting and ‘voluntourism’ sectors have over the last decade become just as insidious.

Some of the principle findings in the report include:

  • The opportunity costs and negative externalities associated with these industries may “undermine South Africa’s brand attractiveness as a tourism destination by up to R54.51 billion over the next decade.”
  • Excluding the canned hunting sector, the predator breeding industry and its other related activities may generate over R1.0 billion of revenue per annum. This translates to less than 1% of the total tourism economy.
  • Based on the current literature and data available, the conservation and economic claims of the entire industry “do not correspond to reality.”
  • The conservation claims have no validity, but if the industry is going to make any claims of economic benefit, further analysis and data collection is needed. Current data is based on small sample sizes dependent on interview responses.
  • Volunteers on predator facilities are taking work away from local full-time job-seekers.
  • While the market for canned hunts has fallen, this has not resulted in any noticeable increase in demand for wild lion trophies.
  • The lion bone quota should be removed as there is insufficient scientific basis for awarding it. In addition, legal quotas create supply-side signals of legitimacy that promote parallel illegal markets as well as poaching for illegal stock to be laundered through ‘legal’ markets.
  • The price of lion bones is on the increase; heading over R50 000 for a carcass, and that this trade may well be replacing canned/captive hunting as the breeders primary revenue source.
  • The connection between captive lion breeding and organised crime has been well documented.

Of particular interest to the government, particularly the Department of Labour and the revenue authorities will be Harvey’s findings on the much-touted job creation claims made by some predator facilities and the so-called sanctuaries. Rather than creating jobs, they make use of a seemingly endless stream of volunteers that is ‘crowding out’ at least 84 full-time jobs that would otherwise be available to local work-seekers.

The volunteer exchange is the most incongruous of contracts as those offering their labour for free are also asked to pay substantial sums before setting foot on a facility. In essence, the volunteers pay twice; their cash in Dollars or Euro’s that provide substantial revenue streams for the operators, and then they must get to work.

It’s inconceivable that anyone would offer both their cash and labour to scrub lion cages, mend fences and feed animals amongst many other chores. But as Harvey points out, this happens because of the misleading or false conservation claims used to lure them.

Unsuspecting volunteers from around the world are prepared to make these sacrifices thinking they are making a contribution to securing the future of wild lions. And there is also a little honey involved; the chance to cuddle and bottle-feed recently born cubs.

The shameful deceit and cruelty aside, the messages can also undermine the legitimate efforts of predator scientists and conservationists, and this is reason enough for the authorities to act.

As many others have pointed out, this report also highlights the economic contributions of these industries as being relatively small. However, it is the first to quantify the significant potential losses to Brand South Africa. Next week, Parliament holds a colloquium that will be delving into these exact aspects.

Is this trophy hunting advert intended for OR Tambo Airport inappropriate?

A large variety of people from all over the world pass through airports on a daily basis, and thus airports can be very picky about the look of advertisements that adorn its walls and its outside billboards.

When it comes to issues close to people’s hearts, things can get a bit more heated – like when OR Tambo International Airport rejected the publishing of a billboard from Australian organisation For the Love of Wildlife (FLOW), a Blood Lions affiliate, ahead of the the captive lion hunting colloquium in parliament.

The billboard shows a young child holding a toy gun while side-eyeing a lion, with the caption, “Skill level required to be a lion hunter”.

OR Tambo denied the billboard on grounds of “not being entertaining advertisements whereby children are associated with hunting and guns”, and is willing to support the campaign if the artwork is changed.

FLOW found this unacceptable however, stating that the advertisement was created in consultation with behavioural change experts for maximum effect.

“The ad shows a child with a plastic toy gun and the reality is children play with these toys. It’s not about a child engaging in violence or hunting,” says FLOW’s founding director Donalea Patman.

“It compares the skill required to kill a lion to the skill level of a child, to undermine the status of these people who call themselves hunters yet they shoot tame, hand-reared lions in enclosed areas.”

The two-day captive breeding lion for hunting colloquium, currently underway in Cape Town from 21 to 22 August, is aimed at addressing the global concerns raised against the industry and South Africa’s role in wildlife conservation.

Humane Society International (HSI) Africa also released the outcome of their nationwide poll of over a thousand South Africans, showing an overwhelming public concern about the lion breeding industry.

More than two-thirds of their respondents indicated that they think lion breeding is harmful to the country’s international reputation. HSI’s findings echo another new report published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), which revealed that the captive lion breeding industry revenue represents less than 2% of South Africa’s tourism revenue and that the lion breeding industry damages South Africa’s reputation as a tourist destination.

You can see the disputed advertisement here.

What do you think of the advertisement? You can vote here.

Largest lion bone carrier, Singapore Airlines, stops cargo from South Africa

The largest airline exporter of lion bones from South Africa to Southeast Asia will no longer support SA’s bone trade from captive-bred big cats.

Following a recent internal review, which took into account “increasing concerns around the world” regarding the lion bone industry, Singapore Airlines said it would discontinue the carriage of lion bones as cargo.

In 2017 Singapore Airlines was the sole airline moving supposed lion bones from South Africa to Southeast Asia, according to the recent EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading report, ‘The Extinction Business – South Africa’s ‘Lion’ Bone Trade’.

Singapore Airlines cargo manager for Africa and the Middle East, Adil Nunis, confirmed that the company’s new position on the matter saying that “moving forward, SIA will not allow the carriage of lion bone shipments on all flights”.

The airline’s decision to distance itself from the damned industry will have far-reaching effects, especially considering a new analysis of global wildlife trafficking seizures in the air transport sector. The report, ‘In Plane Sight: Wildlife Trafficking in the Air Transport Sector’, produced by the Center for Advanced Defense Studies as part of the USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership, revealed the principal role airlines play in the endangered wildlife black market.

Singapore Airlines Cargo is the ninth largest international cargo carrier and a major link between SA and the East, specifically.

To date, 89 major airlines have signed the 2016 United for Wildlife Buckingham Palace Declaration, aimed at reducing the illegal trafficking of wildlife in general. The cargo of lion bone, however, is a legal practice in South Africa and thus would not affect the airlines’ oath to reduce ‘illegal trafficking’.

“Airlines play a major role in perpetuating the misery of wild animals caught up in international trade,” Michele Pickover, EMS Foundation Director, says. “Our research clearly shows that the legal trade is part of the illegal trade – they cannot be separated.

“Just because something is legal does not make it legitimate or justifiable. Airlines need to acknowledge their damaging role, proactively inform themselves of the facts and work much more closely with NGOs such as ourselves to ensure that their industry is conducted in a more ethical and transparent manner.”

Jon Godson, Assistant Director of Environment at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), says in the ‘In Plane Sight’ report that airlines are starting to recognize the need to combat wildlife trafficking and are stepping up as leaders in this global effort. Singapore Airlines’ decision not to support SA’s legal export quota of 1500 lion bone skeletons is just this – a step up.

For more, visit Conservation Action Trust.