The intensive captive breeding and keeping of lions and other big cats creates serious welfare concerns, particularly with the increasing profit-driven commodification of lion products. Often basic needs, such as water, food, shelter and medical care are lacking, and inbreeding is common creating offspring with compromised health and genetics.
Welfare concerns are also associated with tourism facilities, varying from removing cubs within days of birth, handling cubs up to 8-10 hours per day, and sedating subadults on walks, to training wildlife like circus animals, and keeping them in substandard enclosures.
Lion slaughterhouses have also been established to facilitate the mass slaughter of lions to supply skeletons for international bone trade with no regulations in place, creating a range of welfare concerns.
DFFE has repeatedly stated that it does not have a mandate to look after the welfare of wild animals in captivity, as they believe this duty falls under the ambit of the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD). In turn, DALRRD ‘passes the buck’ to the provincial authorities, who pass the responsibility to the NSPCA.
However, the 2019 High Court ruling stated that it was “inconceivable that the Department of Environmental Affairs could have ignored the welfare considerations of lions in setting the annual export quota of lion skeletons”, firmly putting welfare as a shared mandate between DFFE and DALRRD.
At present, the NSPCA has the sole mandate for animal welfare in South Africa, including the welfare and well-being of captive-bred wild animals; however, they receive no financial support from the national government.