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A Looming Crisis – The Captive Big Cat Industry, COVID-19 and Government Culpability

This is an excerpt from an article written by Michele Pickover and published online by Conservation Action Trust on 25 March, 2020.


25th March 2020 

Dear Honourable Minister Creecy,

Since at least as far back as the late 1990s, various NGOs have warned your department about the harmful and negative effects of breeding lions (and other big cats) in captivity. Yet, the South African government has done nothing to slow the growth of the captive lion breeding industry, nor has it given any indication of wanting to do so. This letter lays bare the facts and calls for immediate action.

First, it details the risks embedded in captive lion (and other big cat) breeding and why the industry should be terminated.

Second, we note that letter after letter to your Ministry and Department goes unheeded. It seems that industry voices – those with a vested interest in acquiring short-term benefits from exploitative breeding of lion (and other big cat) cubs for human interaction, canned hunting and the lion bone trade – provide the tune to which the policy fiddle dances.

Finally, tourism – the goose that lays the golden egg in the South African economy – is dead for the foreseeable future. Not only has South Africa’s willingness to supply Asian wildlife markets created zoonotic disease spillover risks, which have led to the need for travel bans, but the imposition of the latter means that thousands of captive lions (and other big cats) will now be left to starve to death without tourism dollars. Had the government acted in 2009 (when a plan was presented to your Department) and when there were far fewer lions (and other big cats) in captivity, this catastrophe would have been avoided.

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