PRESS RELEASE: South Africa’s cruel lion farming industry is fuelling the illegal international trade in big cat bones


South Africa’s cruel lion farming industry is fuelling the illegal international trade in big cat bones


A new report by World Animal Protection details the horror of South Africa’s inhumane lion farming industry and its ties to international crime syndicates.

AUGUST 10, 2023 – World Animal Protection is today calling on the South African Government to stand by its commitment to shut down the country’s cruel commercial captive lion breeding industry for good.

The international NGO has received evidence from anonymous sources on unregulated “off grid” lion farms who described unimaginable animal suffering. They also detailed how the facilities are using South Africa’s legal lion breeding and ‘canned’ hunting industry to cover their involvement in the illegal international export of lion bones for use in traditional Asian medicine. 

Their gathered evidence includes: 

  • Lions kept in decrepit, filthy and barren enclosures littered with old food carcasses and piles of faeces

  • Lions and tigers slaughtered and processed on-site, with up to four animals processed by each labourer per day at both facilities during busy periods

  • Lions severely neglected and starved to save farm owners money – resulting in instances of lion cannibalism, including how desperately hungry lions attacked and ate another adult lion at a facility

  • Inhumane and unhygienic slaughter processes, with lions’ entrails spilled over the floor, and skin peeled back from their paws and skulls

  • Low paid farm staff working in unsafe conditions without protective gear and at high risk of suffering an accident or being infected with zoonotic diseases.

World Animal Protection’s Global Head of Wildlife Research, Dr. Neil D’Cruze, said: “Even as experienced researchers, we were deeply disturbed by the cruel practices taking place. It is sickening to see these majestic mammals reduced to mere commodities kept in merciless conditions.”

Although the commercial captive breeding and canned hunting of lions remains legal, though poorly regulated in South Africa, the export of lion skeletons – including claws and teeth – was declared unconstitutional by the South African High Court in 2019. 

In 2021, the South African Government announced its intention to immediately halt the “domestication and exploitation of lions, and to ultimately close all captive lion facilities in South Africa”.

But in late 2022, the government backtracked on its commitment and instructed a Ministerial Task Team to “develop and implement a voluntary exit strategy and pathways for captive lion facilities”. 

Lack of enforcement of regulations and clarity on the future of the industry, has left a legal grey area, enabling some farms to operate what on the surface appear to be legitimate captive lion breeding and ‘canned’ trophy hunting businesses – but which in reality supply the illegal international big cat bone trade facilitated by organised crime gangs.  

While the skins, paws and skulls are handed over to the canned hunters as prized trophies, the skeletons are left to dry in the sun, packaged and sold to “Asian buyers who regularly visit” the off-grid breeding farms. 

Dr. Neil D’Cruze continued: “This new intelligence gathered by brave sources confirms what was previously suspected – these well-established legal operations are plugged secretly into unethical practices and an illicit international trade network.” 

According to sources – whose identities World Animal Protection and local partner NGO Blood Lions are protecting – staff and their families are routinely threatened with violence to maintain their silence about the cruelty and illegal bone trade. 

It is estimated that between 8,000-12,000 lions and other big cats, including tigers, are bred and kept in captivity in more than 350 facilities across the country.

Dr Neil D’Cruze added: “A voluntary phase out of the industry alone won’t be enough to halt the commercial exploitation of captive lions in South Africa. We now know some off grid lion farms go to great lengths to avoid detection.

“Facilities use various tactics like security cameras, patrols and messaging apps to avoid detection during inspections to conceal illegal activities.”

Dr. Louise de Waal, Director, and Campaign Manager of Blood Lions, said: “We urge the South African government to make good on their 2021 decision and bring a mandatory time-bound end to the commercial captive lion industry, which will make detecting and preventing the illegal trade easier at the same time. Only then our reputation as a leader in conservation be restored, and the welfare of the country’s captive lions and other big cats ensured.” 

World Animal Protection and Blood Lions have handed their findings to the South African Government.

South African citizens are encouraged to add their voice and call on the South Africa Government to phase out the captive lion breeding industry by registering their support at  and using the #PrideNotCruelty on social media.  We also advise tourists and visitors to avoid venues and attractions that cruelly exploit lions and other big cats for entertainment, such as cub petting and walking with lions.


Notes to Editors:

For more information, photos, and videos or to arrange an interview please contact Dr. Louise De Waal   (Executive Director, Blood Lions), Dr Neil D’Cruze (International Wildlife, World Animal Protection)

  • You can read the full Putting a stop to cruelty: why South Africa´s commercial captive lion industry should be shut down for good report here. 

  • World Animal Protection have shared this evidence with the government of South Africa, calling on them to protect people and their wildlife heritage by shutting down this industry. 

  • Any reference to the location of these facilities has not been shared to safeguard the identity of the brave informants who helped expose the ongoing cruelty and illegal activities.

  • The term “canned trophy hunting” refers to the hunting of captive-bred wild animals in small, fenced enclosures with no chance of escape

Looking back as we think about the future: Global progress made since the launch of Blood Lions in 2015

It has been almost eight years since the launch of the Blood Lions film which exposed the harsh realities behind the captive lion breeding industry and its unregulated proliferation in South Africa. With the public launch of the film in June 2023, now we are no longer restricted by distribution agreements, we reflect on the journey thus far to take stock of the overall progress that has been achieved collectively. Along the way, we have seen big positive strides and steps backwards, but overall the progress has been substantial. At times we would all like to see things move along quicker, as the wheels of government legislation are slow to turn; however, we also have much progress to celebrate and draw on for continued motivation to fight for the end of this horrendous industry. 

The Blood Lions film has served as an important catalyst for change in the captive lion industry. The dark reality of captive breeding, interactive tourism, hunting, and the lion bone trade has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people across the world, from school students through to government officials. The film has been selected for screenings at numerous film festivals, including the Durban International Film Festival, Lens Politika in Helsinki, and Joshua International in California. In addition to this, curated screenings have been presented across the world to various tourism and travel organisations and national governments. Outside of the South African departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, countries such as Botswana, Finland, Australia, Sweden, and EU parliaments have all participated in screenings of the film to spark important and necessary discussions about how international policy makers may demonstrate their disapproval of the industry.

The online campaign that followed the launch of the film has grown from strength to strength with thousands of supporters across various social media platforms. August 2016 saw the launch of Youth For Lions, an exciting sub-campaign especially aimed at educating and involving young people to empower their voices on issues of welfare and conservation.
The Blood Lions team has also strengthened its lobbying efforts to include scientific peer-reviewed research. This has become an invaluable aspect of our work to verify how the industry operates and to refute the unsubstantiated claims made by its proponents. Five scientific papers have now been published by members of the Blood Lions team in collaboration with researchers from the World Animal Protection, covering topics such as zoonosis, traditional medicine, welfare, and the lack of regulation seen on a provincial and national level. 

Prior to the premier of Blood Lions in 2015, the captive lion industry, although still largely unknown by the public, was growing substantially. The Cook Report – Making a Killing – was released in 1997 and served as a vital exposé of the breeding and canned hunting of lions in South Africa. Despite early warnings, the industry was allowed to expand. In 2005, an offshoot of the industry was discovered and an investigation confirmed that lion bones were  used as a substitute in tiger bone wine. Not long after in 2008, the first CITES lion bone export permits were issued with 60 skeletons legally exported from South Africa’s Free State province. Thereafter, controversy grew surrounding the hunting of captive-bred lions and the issue began to gain significant momentum. The 2015 premier of the Blood Lions film and the subsequent global awareness campaign have been instrumental in bringing the captive lion industry back into the public and government spaces for scrutiny and awareness on an even greater scale. 

We also applaud the many tourism organisations, airlines, and governments that have taken a stand against the commercial exploitation of lions and other predators in captivity by refusing to carry and/or import hunting trophies or withdrawing support of exploitative interactive activities like cub petting and walking with lions. Below we look at the overall and collective progress that has been achieved since the film’s launch. We want to thank every individual and organisation who have tirelessly lobbied in public and government spaces to raise awareness and affect policy change

We look forward to all that 2023 holds as we await the outcomes of the Ministerial Task Team working to devise effective solutions to phase out the industry, by starting with voluntary exit strategies. 

The Blood Lions team remains strong in their determination to raise awareness and lobby for policy change in the commercial captive predator industry. Through all the setbacks and progress, we will continue to expose the realities of this industry to promote the genuine conservation of one of Africa’s most iconic species. We await further open engagement with South Africa’s government to find a way forward that fulfills the High-Level Panel goal that “South Africa does not captive breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially”. 

Read more about the progress made so far…..

The Captive Predator Industry in South Africa: What our Research Revealed #1

In 2021 we undertook an immense research project to better understand the extent of the captive predator industry in South Africa. Through our research, we hoped to gather information to gain insight into the unregulated nature of predator breeding, keeping and trade across the country. We wanted to get a better understanding of the extent and nature of the industry which meant we needed to get a sense of the sheer numbers of big cats in facilities and the types of activities that involved these predators, such as captive hunts, euthanasia, breeding, transport, and trade. It was also necessary to understand how officials carry out their responsibilities, like inspecting these facilities. With this information we could comprehend more fully the efficiency and compliance of provincial regulations and officials with regard to the captive breeding, keeping, and trade of big cats in South Africa.

Promotion of Access to Information Act

In order to obtain this information through legal channels, we made use of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), which was created to ensure that South Africans have the constitutional right to access information to promote democratic participation and transparency for public and private bodies.

Our research demonstrates serious concerns regarding the provincial departments’ capacity, poor record keeping, and even having PAIA requests for information ignored or refused. Although an important part of democracy is transparency, our researchers often struggled to obtain the correct contact details for information officers and to maintain contact to receive the requested information. Existing PAIA manuals were often outdated and some information officers displayed non-compliance by ignoring our requests or not responding within the timeframes outlined in the PAIA manuals.

The number of PAIA requests (n = 72) and responses received. Days lapsed means the time between the initial enquiry and date of closure.

Youth For Lions Blog: Volunteering: How to support true wildlife conservationists instead of money grabbing profiteers

Written by Youth Ambassador, Oliver Riley-Smith and published with permission
© Oliver Riley-Smith

With the globe growing ever smaller through social media and modern transport, volunteering is growing ever larger. Young people around the world are becoming more passionate to travel and volunteer across the globe but unfortunately many unethical organisations are capitalising on this. Dodging the complex minefield that surrounds ethical and unethical wildlife volunteering can be a real challenge.

A common and very accessible form of experiencing wildlife conservation is through short-term voluntourism trips that require advanced payment so you can support a charity organisation of your choice, often with little or no training. Many international travel and volunteering agencies promote these kinds of short voluntourism trips abroad, often no longer than a few days to a couple of weeks, where individuals have the chance to work alongside wildlife (often at quite a high cost). Such trips are a great and entertaining introduction to environmental volunteering and are seen across the globe. However, it is important to remember that there are many wildlife organisations offering voluntourism experiences who claim to be ethical facilities, but whose passions and goals lie elsewhere.

Let’s take South Africa as an example. Many unethical captive predator facilities in South Africa that claim to be big cat sanctuaries are often nothing more than commercial ventures profiting from the animals in their care. These facilities often provide voluntourism experiences with the promise of helping lion conservation by bottle feeding and hand rearing so-called “orphaned” lion cubs (and other big cat species). The harsh reality is that the orphaning of the cubs is most of the time at the hands of the facility itself. In almost every instance these sorts of commercial facilities involve big cats kept in sub par conditions with uncertain futures and the potential for further suffering, and in some cases, death as a result of “canned” or captive trophy hunting and/or the sale of their bones for the international wildlife trade.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

Sadly, many voluntourism agencies have been known to support these unethical institutions with false claims that draw in the less experienced. Much of the volunteer work advertised by these unethical organisations involves working very closely with wildlife, often hand feeding or directly handling wild animals and birds that should be allowed to live as natural a life as possible. Interacting with captive wildlife that cannot be successfully rehabilitated, whether you are a volunteer or paying tourist, is unacceptable and in many cases dangerous.

It is important to note that there are ethical wildlife organisations that offer voluntourism opportunities to paying volunteers who want to support genuine conservation efforts, both physically and financially. The additional funds raised from these volunteers are vitally important for the day-to-day running of these organisations and cover the costs of, for example animal care (in the case of true sanctuaries) or essential tracking equipment (in the case of wild conservation projects). There are also institutions that may provide hands-on work with select species that are suitable for rehabilitation and release. Individual animals whose captive rehabilitation is necessary due to incidents such as poaching or human intervention can be rehabilitated by volunteers under the guidance of experienced veterinary and/or management staff.

Having seen the aftermath of a rhino poaching incident myself, it is clear why some species such as orphaned rhinos need constant company in the beginning to provide solace and help them deal with their immense trauma. Bird chicks, often orphaned by hunting, or equines such as zebras are also species that volunteers can safely work alongside and help to rehabilitate. These species are not known to become habituated through controlled human contact and their releases are mostly viable. On the other hand, at many big cat facilities that profiteer from the animals, the cubs people interact with were generally taken from their mothers at a very young age so they can be handled by paying tourists and volunteers. Big cats are never suitable for interaction with humans, which is just one of the many reasons why they can never be rehabilitated or released into the wild [Learn more here: Myth Busting]. It is key to understand the species you may be working with and the organisation you wish to support to avoid getting into a situation where your own safety or the animal’s welfare is put at risk.

All forms of ethical voluntourism provide an amazing experience for the volunteer, while supporting the organisation in whichever way they need. For example, short-stay voluntourism trips can focus on providing the best experience possible for the volunteer due to the shortness of their stay, with the key benefit for the organisation being the financial support which they can invest in their conservation work. Longer term volunteering is often more focused on providing additional people-power and the best services for the organisation with the key benefit being the tasks volunteers perform on the ground. This also involves a more realistic delve into wildlife conservation where you can experience the spectacular as well as the more dull activities that turn the cogs of conservation.

With the growing appeal of voluntourism to many across the globe, ensuring you are supporting those whose goal is to aid wildlife ethically and responsibly is becoming ever more problematic. Voluntourism experiences are fantastic opportunities to pursue shorter environmental adventures while also financially supporting the institutions you are visiting. It is important to bear in mind that the activities you are likely to pursue on such ventures involve the more glamorous side of conservation, with your time on the excursion being diverted from more gruelling tasks. If you do locate an ethical facility that you wish to support through volunteering, your visit, whether short or long, will no doubt be supporting the fight for nature.

If you are a prospective volunteer, and you choose to book through an agency offering such experiences, always confirm the venues you are visiting far in advance of your trip to ensure that you are not being shipped off to an unethical facility without your knowledge. The only way to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you are supporting an unethical facility is through researching the agency, the facility and the area in which you want to volunteer. Use trusted sources such as Working Abroad, Wildlife ACT and Volunteers in Africa Beware, and ask questions to uncover the welfare and ethical standards of the organisation at which you wish to volunteer. Investigating the itinerary, cost and location of the volunteering project can provide valuable insight into its legitimacy. It should be your prime concern to ask all the necessary questions and avoid such commercial, profit-driven institutions whose priority falls away from wildlife conservation and animal welfare. Keep in mind that a true sanctuary focuses on the welfare and well-being of the wildlife in their care and are often registered non-profit organisations.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

I have had the opportunity to volunteer both at home in the UK and abroad in Namibia and South Africa. In South Africa, I joined Project Rhino where I volunteered to support the delivery of hundreds of meals to communities in Zululand (KwaZulu-Natal province) to help young children through the struggles that the COVID-19 lockdown presented. By supporting communities that surround nature reserves, it dissuades them from resorting to poaching for subsistence (i.e. bushmeat) or money (i.e. rhino poaching for profit). Alongside Grant Fowlds and Kingsley Holgate I was mentored on the numerous components that make up true conservation in South Africa. I was taken through the bush of the Eastern Cape province creating bush trails on mountainsides, tracking black rhino, and learning about black rhino expansion projects. Previously Project Rhino also gave me the opportunity to attend the World Youth Wildlife Summit in the Kruger National Park, where I volunteered as a group leader to facilitate the environmental education of 250 youth from around the globe.

Both these experiences had the essential keystones of ethical volunteering in common: it directly benefited Project Rhino and their initiatives in a responsible manner. Although the experience was incredibly enlightening and entertaining for me as a volunteer, it did require hard work and a realistic mindset, and was aimed at primarily benefiting the organisation and surrounding communities.

One thing is for certain: Volunteering organisations with only profit at their core, are of no benefit to wildlife or their conservation.

I hope this article may help you make a true positive difference for lions and nature while avoiding those that wish otherwise.

© Oliver Riley-Smith

PRESS RELEASE: South Africa on the brink of phasing out the commercial captive lion breeding industry

18 August 2022

When the Blood Lions campaign was launched following the premier of the film in 2015, taking on the captive predator industry seemed a near impossible task. Today, we are at the cusp of seeing the closing down process begin, and all those that have held the vision and participated in the process can take credit.

Over the past month or so, some significant and welcome steps have been taken by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment (DFFE) to end the captive lion industry. The gazetted draft White Paper on the Conservation and Sustainable use of South Africa’s Biodiversity provides an overarching policy context for biodiversity legislation, regulation and implementation in South Africa.

The White Paper is a substantial document. There are shortcomings, even contradictions, but in the main it heralds significant progress on many of the issues that have needed attention in our welfare and wildlife management legislation. The authors and Ministry need to be commended”, says Ian Michler, Blood Lions Director.

It is a progressive though ambitious document recognising the intrinsic value of wildlife and biodiversity, recognising the importance of well-being of individual animals in the definition of sustainable use and purposing the adoption of One Health and One Welfare approaches. This document maps out a new vision for people and wildlife and many of its clauses should have direct impacts on those involved in breeding predators, canned hunting and the exploitation of wildlife in tourism facilities.  The draft White Paper is open for public comment until 10th September 2022.

After her announcement in May 2021, when Minister Creecy stated that South Africa will no longer breed captive lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially, she is now in the process of appointing a Ministerial Task Team. This panel of experts will be required to identify voluntary exit options and pathways for lion breeders from the captive lion industry, and oversee the implementation and monitoring of these.

“After decades of opposition and a strong mandate from a High-Level Panel in 2020, we welcome the Government’s announcement that it will begin the process of closing down the captive lion industry.  A voluntary exit route laid out and monitored by a ‘task team’ of experts seems to be a sensible way to start”, says Michler.

For this Task Team, who will take the first steps towards ending the captive lion industry, Creecy is looking for people with specific expertise and experience in areas such as animal welfare, veterinary care, disease risk, traditional practices associated with lions, and labour law and trade unions with particular reference to business closure and retrenchment.

This team of experts will be established as soon as possible and their work is due to be completed by end March 2023. Nominations for this panel are now open until 26th August.

Michler says, “Minister Creecy’s recent announcement to start the process of ending the captive lion industry is the right thing to do. It’s a brutal industry with no conservation merit or scientific benefit, and the tourism and trade components are entirely exploitative of animals in a manner that undermines Brand South Africa. She has received widespread support from the conservation and ethical tourism sectors, as well as those involved in predator research.”

Draft White Paper submissions:

Ministerial Task Team nominations:

More information

  • Contact: Dr Louise de Waal
  • Email:
  • Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and global campaign that works to bring an end to predator breeding and “canned” hunting industries in South Africa.

PRESS RELEASE: World Lion Day 2022

Powerful message released on World Lion Day: What would our children say if they knew the truth?

10 August 2022

Today is World Lion Day (10 August) – a day to celebrate one of Africa’s most iconic species and to raise awareness on conservation issues globally. Lions are recognised worldwide for their importance not only from a nature conservation and ecological perspective, but also symbolically, culturally and in terms of tourism.

The significance and dignity of wild lions in South Africa have been replaced by the commodification of captive lions at every stage of their lives. Currently, 8,000-10,000 lions and thousands of other big cats, including tigers and cheetahs, are bred and kept in captivity in approximately 350 facilities in South Africa. These predators are bred for commercial purposes, including cub petting, voluntourism, “canned” hunting, the lion bone trade and live exports.

In honour of World Lion Day, a short video clip was produced by Blood Lions to highlight one stage in the exploitative cycle, namely the cub petting, where thousands of tourists and volunteers pay to play with, bottle feed and hand-raise captive-bred predator cubs. These unsuspecting tourists and volunteers are made to believe that their money will contribute to the conservation of wild lions and that the cubs they interact with will be returned to the wild.

Despite the announcement in May 2021 by Minister Barbara Creecy of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) that South Africa will no longer breed captive lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially, the captive lion industry is still thriving.

This legislative process is ongoing and in June 2021, a draft Policy Position paper was gazetted for public participation on the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. Last month, a Draft White Paper was released for public comment on the Conservation and Sustainable use of South Africa’s Biodiversity. Although both documents have the potential to make a positive impact on reversing the domestication and commercialisation of our wildlife, it will take significant time to amend and promulgate national legislation based on these documents.

“In the meantime, the commercial captive lion breeding industry is allowed to continue. You can however be part of creating change”, says Dr Louise de Waal (Campaign Manager, Blood Lions).
What would our children say if they knew the truth? YOU can stop supporting the exploitation of wild animals and help us to #CancelCaptivity.”

Should you find yourself at a facility with captive predators and any of the following Red Flags are raised, we recommend not supporting that facility:

  1. If you are allowed to touch, hold or feed any cubs or adult predators.
  2. If the place always has cubs for people to play with.
  3. If there are always cubs, but hardly any adult predators living there.
  4. If you know that they are breeding predators.
  5. If you know that they are buying or selling predators from/to other places and/or people.

More information

  • Contact: Dr Louise de Waal
  • Email:
  • Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and global campaign that works to bring an end to predator breeding and “canned” hunting industries in South Africa.

PRESS RELEASE: New joint scientific study identifies a major research gap in animal welfare studies

10 May 2022

In a joint scientific study published earlier this month, Blood Lions and World Animal Protection identified a major research gap that exposes the lack of welfare studies that focus on captive lions housed on commercial farms in South Africa.

“With a substantial captive lion industry of more than 350 commercial facilities holding anything between 8,000-10,000 lions and the complete absence of scientific welfare studies in that industry, we are in the dark in terms of the extent and nature of the welfare issues we are dealing with. The many atrocities found by the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) on commercial lion farms during welfare inspections show that we are not dealing with theoretical challenges, but rather a very real and highly problematic situation”, says Dr Louise de Waal (Director, Blood Lions).

The aim of the study was to identify the welfare challenges lions in the commercial captive predator industry in South Africa face on a day-to-day basis. The researchers reviewed more than 90 peer-reviewed scientific papers and found a wide range of physical and psychological conditions associated with keeping lions in captivity globally.

Some of the welfare challenges identified included a wide range of diseases, injuries, malnutrition and obesity, lack of (clean) water, and abnormal behaviours like excessive pacing and self-mutilation, which were all associated with the keeping of captive lions in facilities such as zoos, wildlife parks and sanctuaries across the globe. However, not one study focussed specifically on the welfare of lions exploited by commercial facilities in South Africa.

“It is under such commercial conditions that lions are most likely to face the biggest welfare atrocities compared to any other captive environment, as the emphasis is on intensive breeding practices that are consumer-driven and income-generation focused and generally don’t adequately address animal welfare and well-being. The lack of welfare studies from commercial lion farms is a major research gap that needs to be addressed urgently”, de Waal said.

The lack of income for captive wildlife facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the absence of national welfare norms and standards for the captive breeding, keeping and trade of lions and other big cats in South Africa, has put the existing big cats in captivity at even more risk of serious welfare issues. In addition, the NSPCA, which is solely mandated with the enforcement of animal welfare in South Africa, is forced to operate without financial support from the national government. 

Subsequent to the publication of a High-Level Panel report recommending the closure of South Africa’s commercial captive lion industry, Minister Barbara Creecy of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) announced on 2nd May 2021 that South Africa would no longer breed and keep captive lions or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially. A draft Policy Position on the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros was gazetted for public comment in June that same year.

A full year on from this announcement and the status of the commercial lion industry remains the same, however the uncertainty of its future is most likely exacerbating the welfare concerns for the captive lions involved. Although the Minister did once again decide to set a zero CITES export quota for trade in lion parts and derivatives including lion bones, as has been the case for the past three years, the breeding, canned hunting, and live trade of captive-bred lions is still legal as are all interactive tourism encounters with cubs and sub-adult big cats.

“We urge the Minister to keep the pressure on the progress of the upcoming legislative changes, as in the meantime the welfare of thousands of lions and other big cats hangs in the balance. We appeal to the Minister to urgently carry out a comprehensive national audit of the current commercial captive lion industry, including the welfare conditions of the big cats involved, in order to minimise unintended negative welfare impacts during the planned phase out of the industry in South Africa”, says Edith Kabesiime (Wildlife Campaigns Manager, World Animal Protection).

Call to Action: Sign the PETITION in support of an open letter to the Ministers of DFFE and DALRRD
Research details:

The Blood Lions and World Animal Protection research team identified 170 different physical and psychological conditions associated with the keeping of lions in captivity that were categorised according to a globally accepted animal welfare model, namely Mellor’s Five Domains Model. The welfare conditions identified fall into the following domains: 

  • 72% in the Health Domain (e.g., disease and injury)
  • 11% in the Behaviour Domain (e.g., negative behaviours)
  • 10% in the Mental Domain (e.g., fear, anxiety & frustration) 
  • 4% in the Nutrition Domain (e.g., malnutrition or food and water deprivation)
  • 3% in the Environment Domain (e.g., environmental challenges or discomfort arising from the animals’ surroundings)

Link to peer-reviewed paper on welfare of captive lions:

More information

Blood Lions

  • Contact: Dr Louise de Waal
  • Email:
  • Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and global campaign that works to bring an end to predator breeding and “canned” hunting industries in South Africa.

World Animal Protection

  • Contact: Evans Kipkorir
  • Email:
  • World Animal Protection is the global voice for animal welfare, with more than 70 years’ experience campaigning for a world where animals live free from cruelty and suffering. We collaborate with local communities, the private sector, civil society and governments to change animals’ lives for the better.
    Our goal is to change the way the world works to end animal cruelty and suffering for both wild and farmed animals. Through our global food system strategy, we will end factory farming and create a humane and sustainable food system, that puts animals first. By transforming the broken systems that fuel exploitation and commodification, we will give wild animals the right to a wild life. Our work to protect animals will play a vital role in solving the climate emergency, the public health crisis and the devastation of natural habitats.