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South Africa is one of the only African countries that allows the breeding and keeping of predators in captivity for commercial purposes, including lions, cheetahs, leopards, caracals, servals, as well as exotic species such as tigers, jaguars, pumas and even ligers (a crossbreed between lion and tiger).
In July 2019, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) stated in response to Parliamentary questions that there are 366 captive facilities registered in South Africa in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA): Threatened or Protected Species Regulations, 2007 (TOPS) holding a total of 7,979 lions in captivity.
Blood Lions believes that the captive predator population is highly underestimated, and the captive lion population may be as high as 10,000-12,000 lions with thousands of other big cats that are bred and kept in captivity in South Africa. The majority of captive predator facilities are based in the Free State, Limpopo and North West provinces.
In 2016, an IUCN assessment showed that lion populations across the African continent had declined by 43% over a 20-year period (or 3 lion generations). As few as 20,000 lions might now remain, occupying as little as 8% of their historic range. The reasons for this decline include habitat degradation and fragmentation, reductions in prey animals, human-lion conflict, and, importantly, trade in lion products (particularly bones, claws and teeth).
South Africa is the only range state with a stable or even slightly growing lion population. Nevertheless, we have only around 3,000 lions left in the wild; approximately 2,400 wild lions primarily in the Kruger National Park, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and around 500 wild-managed lions in smaller (private) reserves.
lion conservation listings
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species listing: Vulnerable
TOPS listing (NEMBA): Vulnerable
CITES listing: Appendix II
Lion ecologists and conservationists around the world state there is no conservation value in the breeding of lions in captivity, as none of the animals kept in captivity can be used in wild relocation programmes. These captive lions are tame, genetically compromised and ill-equipped to survive in wild areas, not to mention that human-imprinted lions lose their fear of humans and can pose a significant risk to people. Importantly, apart from these facts, there is no need to reintroduce captive-bred lions into the wild, as South Africa’s wild lion population is stable.
The High-Level Panel report is also very clear on this point, and states that “rewilding of captive lions is not feasible from conservation principles and captive breeding is currently not necessary for conservation purposes”. Furthermore, it states that the “captive lion industry threatens South Africa’s reputation as a leader in the conservation of wildlife”.
With this in mind, please ask yourself: If there is no conservation value in the captive breeding and keeping of predators, why is the captive population so substantial?