Bringing an End to South Africa’s Captive Predator Industry: An Interview with the Blood Lions Team

South Africa’s captive lion industry is massive and exploitative, and mercilessly turns lions into profit in a number of ways.  Almost anyone can open a lion breeding farm, and there are no requirements in regards to animal husbandry or welfare knowledge. Borrowing from the tactics of the meat industry’s factory farms, lionesses are subjected to constant pregnancy, with their babies often taken away after mere days, and the animals are housed in small, overcrowded spaces. These captively-bred big cats are then monetized in various ways: hunters pay to kill them and bring their trophies back home; tourists pay for “lion experiences” where they pet, walk with, or take selfies with the lions; and now their bones are also ending up in China, where they are labelled as tiger bones and sold as a Chinese medicine ingredient.

The award-winning 2015 documentary Blood Lions offered an unflinching and thorough look at this industry. It remains one of the most informative overviews of this issue, and along with the larger Blood Lion campaign of which it is a part, it has significantly increased awareness of this cruel and secretive industry. In an interview with the Blood Lions team, we discussed the issue beyond the film.

Dylan Forest: This is a really powerful film, and was very well received when it was released in 2015. The Blood Lions campaign has gone on since then. What have you been working on regarding the captive lion issue since the film’s release? What has changed in the 4 years since then?

Blood Lions team: The Blood Lions campaign was launched to create global awareness around the captive predator breeding, canned hunting and lion bone trade industries, as well as related exploitative wildlife interactive tourism practices. The campaign is anchored by the Blood Lions® film, a strong and active digital media platform, and various specific campaigns with key international partners. The campaign encourages viewers of the film, visitors to Africa and followers on social media to make responsible choices about visiting or supporting wildlife interactive tourism facilities and activities. Through awareness and by reducing demand for exploitative products, the campaign aims to bring an end to the exploitation of captive-bred wild animals.

Blood Lions has worked extensively with tourism, conservation, welfare and legal groups and has made great strides in our efforts to raise global awareness around the captive lion breeding and ‘canned’ (captive) hunting industries, as well as associated tourism activities. The Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ Tourism Campaign and Pledge has been signed by over 170 tourism operators around the world, representing close to 3,000 member organisations, who all have aligned themselves with the Blood Lions goal.

The Blood Lions® film and campaign has received over 53.6 million South African rand worth of pro bono media coverage in 4 years (approximately 3.8 million United States dollars) and the Blood Lions Facebook page reached over 3.3 million people in 2018. In addition, it has been estimated that canned lion hunting has decreased by over 50% since the film was released in 2015, which is considered a great success.

For more information on these achievements, please visit the Blood Lions campaign milestones webpage.


Read More:

Dead Lion Walking: What Tourists Should Know About Canned Lion Hunts

Canned lion hunts are still big in South Africa and the perpetrators often hide under the conservationist umbrella.

There’s nothing like a movie to inspire the desire to travel. Despite the critics’ verdict, Disney’s new live action remake of “The Lion King” might do just that. With its awe-inducing computer-generated virtual reality landscapes — complete with thundering waterfalls, dramatic canyons, grassy savannah, and dusty plains — the movie will likely stir in many viewers the desire to go see Africa’s sangria, cantaloupe and aubergine-hued sunsets — not to mention those regal lions and other wildlife — for themselves.

The chance to visit or volunteer at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa so they can pet, bottle feed or walk with orphaned lion cubs is a tempting one for most animal lovers. But sadly, many well-intentioned visitors and volunteers are under the illusion that they are contributing to real conservation efforts, that they are hand-rearing cubs that will eventually be released into the wild.

But animal lovers should beware. According to the South Africa-based Blood Lions organization, in South Africa the vast majority of ostensibly orphaned baby lions in facilities posing as sanctuaries are actually torn from their mothers at birth and are being bred for the canned hunting industry, a perfectly legal and highly lucrative industry in South Africa.

So, what is canned hunting? It’s a long and sad story, and it begins from the moment the animal is born. Canned lions (it’s increasingly common with cheetahs as well) are animals that are bred and born in captivity on a lion ‘farm’. The cubs are removed from their mothers at two to three-weeks old, sometimes younger, and sold to so-called sanctuaries where tourists and volunteers can pet them. These facilities will claim that the cubs are orphans or were abandoned by their mothers and that the facility is contributing to conservation. When the cubs become too big for cuddling they are sold again, this time to another facility where tourists can ‘walk with lions’. Finally, the lions are sold to zoos or trophy hunters, who will shoot them at close range in a fenced enclosure, or in a ‘canned hunt’. The hunters proudly take the skins — and sometimes the head — home as trophies while the bones are sent to Asia for use in the Chinese traditional medicine trade.

Read More: