Unfair Game: SA’s captive-breeding shame aired in harrowing UK exposé

Written by Louzel Lombard Steyn

Something has gone terribly wrong in a country which I love. I am determined that it must be put right.”
Lord Michael Ashcroft’s latest book, Unfair Game, exposes the worst of South Africa’s macabre captive-breeding lion industry as a high-profile investigation implicates top-tier South African authorities, popular tourist hotspots and border-crossing criminals smuggling lion cubs.

South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry will go down in history as one of the most shameful wildlife disasters ever created by humans on earth. While it continues to spiral into an increasingly corrupt trade, it drags down with it our country’s credibility as a reputable wildlife tourism destination.

A new book, Unfair Game: An exposé of South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry by wildlife philanthropist Lord Michael Ashcroft was released this week, documenting an undercover operation by ex-British Army and security services personnel. The team recruited a South African dealer as a double agent and planted tracking devices in lion skulls destined to be sold to Asia.

Eight months later, their findings confirm many rumoured horrors of South Africa’s lion industry; the alleged deboning of live lions in Asia to obtain sought-after ‘pink bone’ caused by blood left in the bone, how wild lion cubs are being caught in Botswana and smuggled into South Africa for petting and to boost gene pools, and how illegal wildlife trade is conducted openly at a public market in Johannesburg, where lion skulls and skins are sold alongside skins from endangered pangolins.

It also details smuggling of captive lion and tiger skins. In one case, a Russian client took a rolled-up ‘wet’, or untreated, tiger skin out of SA in his suitcase. Another details plans to smuggle a skin to America via the UK by hiding it inside the skin of a deer.

Rotting at the core

The book also highlights a concerning lack of interest by our own police force to pursue such illegalities. It describes how Lord Ashcroft’s team meets up with South African Police Service (SAPS) commanders in charge of the wildlife unit in Pretoria, to present incriminating evidence uncovered during the extensive investigation. Instead of acting on the information, or even looking at the document, the SAPS officials rejected the evidence and threatened the whistle-blowers with imprisonment.

According to Blood Lions director Ian Michler, the investigation blows a hole in what our Department of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF) claims to be a ‘well-regulated’ and ‘enforced’ industry.

“The evidence strongly suggests that South African authorities are enabling this incredibly dangerous trade. Global and local opposition to it is widespread. It comes from the conservation and scientific community, our tourism industry and many hunting organizations around the world and still we have not seen a single act of legislation to curb or end these activities.”

DEFF’s insistence that “there are presently no major threats to our wild lion population” is also disputed as Unfair Game describes in detail how the undercover investigators joined poachers planning to kill wild lions in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. The wild lions were to be poisoned or shot in the stomach to ensure their bones remained undamaged.

Wild cubs, too, are kidnapped during such poaching excursions, the team learned, to be smuggled to SA for petting and to boost the gene pools of SA’s captive breeders.

The poaching excursion described in the book proves that Africa’s dwindling wild lion populations are, in fact, threatened by the industry despite the oft-repeated arguments by sustainable utilisation proponents that commercial captive breeding is beneficial to wild populations.

Detailed questions regarding these findings were ignored by DEFF. Instead, a generic response stated that no comments can be made on any issues relating to SA’s lions until the newly-formed (and highly controversial) High-Level Panel has formulated their strategy.

Bloodsport Tourism 

Tourists and international volunteers are unwittingly duped into the exploitation via seemingly harmless activities such as cub petting and lion walks. A video published alongside Unfair Game reveals how South African tourist facilities, like Moreson Ranch and Akwaaba Lodge & Predator Park, offer ‘family-friendly’ big cat encounters in the foreground while engaging in suspicious ‘canned’ activities behind-the-scenes.

A home video shot at Moreson Ranch, where cub petting is a major attraction, shows the owners killing a lioness in a small enclosure. The animal is shot in the shoulder and stomach more than 10 times in a seven-minute period as she dies a slow death. The body shots were reportedly deliberate, as not to damage the skull of the lion, enabling this to be sold for more money.

Moreson Ranch declined to comment on the footage.

At Akwaaba Lodge & Predator Park, again, undercover footage shows how a tiger is sold in an underhanded deal, before being tranquilised and loaded onto a pick-up truck. Akwaaba’s owner Nazeer Cajee confirmed the deal but denies killing the animal. “When the tiger left my property, she was still breathing. What happened after they left, I have no idea,” he says.

Unfair Game details how the animal later died of an overdose of tranquilisers and was skinned and processed in a makeshift home abattoir, the bones destined for the Asian tiger bone market.

Cajee’s indifference to the tigress’s fate contradicts the mantra of his supposed family-friendly farm, where “animals are all treated with love and affection”.

In South Africa, zero regulations exist to govern the captive tiger industry. These exotic Asian species are essentially ‘farmed’ in SA are at the mercy of owners and can be bred, hybridised, killed, skinned and cooked ad-lib.

Tourists who have visited these facilities have unknowingly contributed to the systemised cruelty.

SA Tourism CEO Sisa Ntshona made his position clear; “We promote an authentic and credible tourism experience to all our tourists, and this includes an authentic wildlife experience to keep it as “wild” and natural as possible,” he stated back in 2016. “We do not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats and walking with lions.”

Yet, it continues. The horrors, escalating.  

“We now have one of our biggest tourism markets stepping up to air the horrors of predator breeding, “canned” hunting and cub petting to their public and government,” Michler says. “It’s not the best way to be marketing ourselves and certainly damages our claims as being an ethical and responsible destination offering authentic tourism experiences.”

Travellers from the United Kingdom make up SA’s second-largest tourist market, accounting for over 13% of total annual visitors. These dedicated travellers are seeing an increasingly grim picture of SA’s once idealised wildlife tourism offering.

Moreover, the industry is another global health crisis waiting to happen, as it is based solely on close human interaction with and consumption of wildlife. 

Alas, the purpose of the captive breeding industry is just that; to reduce Africa’s greatest predator to the sum of its most lucrative parts. It is a fate for which these animals continue to suffer unimaginably gruesome deaths, their lives a mere by-product of their parts; trophy head, skin, bones, teeth and claws.

WARNING: This content is graphic and not for the faint-hearted.
  • Unfair Game: An exposé of South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry by Lord Michael Ashcroft. The paper version of the book was released in the UK on Tuesday 16 June 2020 and will be available in South African bookshops around the 16 July 2020. The e-book is however available online. Proceeds from the book will be donated to wildlife charities in South Africa.

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Conservation leaders urge UN World Tourism Organisation: Curb wildlife exploitation in ‘tomorrow’s tourism’

Written by Louzel Lombard Steyn

The thing with keeping wildlife in cages is that it almost always turns around to bite you in the behind.

The current global pandemic is case-in-point and going forward, a new perception of sustainable tourism is key, especially in South Africa.

Conservation groups from South Africa and around the globe have called on the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and their Global Tourism Crisis Committee to phase out close-contact wildlife encounters and entertainment practices in tourism to help build a more resilient and sustainable industry going forward.

This as the world continues to navigate the aftermath of the emergence of a novel zoonotic disease. It is believed that COVID-19 originated at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, where it was transmitted from bats to endangered pangolins and then to humans. It’s not the first time such a human-wildlife transmission has occurred and, as experts predict, it won’t be the last.

As a country dependent on tourism for economic stability and employment, South Africa’s tourism industry simply won’t survive another catastrophic zoonotic disease spill-over. 

To this end, a group of nearly 240 international organisations, including 13 from South Africa, have called on the UNWTO’s Global Tourism Crisis Committee partners to rethink wildlife entertainment in tourism going forward

Travel and tourism heavyweights such as Airbnb, booking.com, the Dutch association of travel agents and tour operators ANVR, Intrepid Travel, as well as the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), have all backed the open letter sent by the World Animal Protection (WAP) on the 28 May.  

The letter asks for a pro-active, precautionary and responsible approach in “preparing for tomorrow” by phasing out the use of captive wildlife for tourist entertainment. The proposal hopes to safeguard both tourists and tourism employees, while shaping an authentic and ethical industry.

A new wave of wildlife tourism

Wildlife interactions are an integrated part of tourism, accounting for up to 20-40% of international tourism globally. However, as the letter states, the industry is also a reservoir for new zoonotic diseases and relies on keeping wild animals in closely confined spaces to be handled, fed, posed with, walked with, ridden or watched as they perform. Often, the animals involved also suffer due to poor welfare conditions, which undermines their immune systems and accelerates disease emergence and spread. 

While the era of circuses and zoos seems to be losing traction, a new, more nuanced wave of exploitation continues in the online realm, where ‘wildlife fame’ is on the rise.

Between 2014 and 2017, the number of wildlife selfies posted on Instagram increased by 292%. More than 40% of these involved hugging, holding or close-contact interactions with wild animals. Apart from the immediate dangers, such as losing an arm or being mauled to death, “the risk of transmitting potential zoonosis must be considered a significant Public Health risk,” says Nick Stewart, Global Head of Wildlife Campaigns for WAP. 

Particularly concerning is how many of these interaction facilities and individuals operate under the cloak of ‘wildlife rescue operations’ or ‘rehabilitation centres’, to woo tourists, fans and volunteers. The recent Netflix hit-series Tiger King is but one example and in South Africa, there are many ‘Joe Exotics’ keeping wildlife in captivity in the name of ‘education’, ‘raising awareness’ and ‘conservation’.

In reality, the practice romanticises close physical contact with wildlife and jeopardises all ethical and well-being regulations aimed at keeping humans and wildlife safe. 

According to Blood Lions director Pippa Hankinson, faux-conservation tactics pose a great challenge to creating a tourism industry which is genuinely sustainable and safe. Blood Lions is one of the co-signatories of the UNWTO joint letter.

The current pause in the global tourism industry creates an opportunity to take a step back and implement rational measures to avoid all of the above. “Decisive action would signal the tourism sector’s commitment to not only recover, but to build back better toprotect the health of tourists and tourism workers globally,” Stewart says.

Tomorrow’s Tourism

SATSA have already started to address some of these issues with their Animal Interaction Charter, encouraging facilities to do away with interactions, breeding and trading. According to Keira Powers, SATSA Responsible Tourism Committee Chair, they aim to be on the right side of history. 

“Wildlife remains the bedrock of South Africa’s tourism, and we have the privileged position of offering tourists engagements in authentic settings. A UNWTO-led tourism recovery plan with strong, ethical recommendations around captive wildlife will bolster local tourism authorities’ efforts to create a more sustainable, ethical and responsible tourism industry around the globe”, Powers says.

Cape Town’s official destination marketing organisation Cape Town Tourism already opposes all human-wildlife interactions. However, says mayoral committee member for economic opportunities and tourism in Cape Town James Vos, it is out of their hands to stop such facilities from operating. “It’s clear that cub petting and other wildlife entertainment practices will continue, despite their controversy, unless they are banned for good.” 

There has never been a bigger need or better grounds for such drastic action; to proactively minimise the risk of future pandemics, to protect the health of tourists and tourism workers and to secure the tourism industry’s future sustainability.  

“We need to ask the question however why we are still having this debate”, Hankinson says. “More than three years ago, CEO of South African Tourism, Sisa Ntshona, stated publicly that SA Tourism does not promote or endorse any interaction with wild animals such as the petting of wild cats, interacting with elephants and walking with lions, cheetahs and so on, but nothing concrete has changed since.”

In South Africa, wildlife interactions and entertainment in tourism remains a sticky inter-departmental web over which our national Tourism Department has limited authority, even though they support SATSA’s long-term vision regarding wildlife interactions in tourism, says spokesperson Blessing Manale.

The Department is not the regulatory authority and cannot simply ban wildlife interactions in tourism, he says. “That function remains a public health or environmental management matter, with the relevant authorities being the Departments of Health and Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.” 

He says the Department continues to work with industry partners to strengthen efforts in support of sustainable and ethical tourism practices wherever they are able. Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane has also rolled out a tourism recovery plan, stating that transformation should be an integral part of the COVID-19 bounce back. “Any recovery plan that is not in line with a coordinated, global effort will be a futile exercise,” she says. 

A ‘coordinated global effort’ is what the open letter to the UNWTO and the nearly 240 signatories ask for; to ‘grow back better’ in building a resilient and safe tourism industry for the future – for both humans and wildlife. 

In April, the (UNWTO) released a set of recommendations calling for urgent and strong support to help the global tourism sector not only recover from the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19, but to ‘grow back better’. According to the conservation groups, the out-phasing of captive wildlife entertainment supports the implementation of these recommendations to help mitigate the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and accelerate recovery.

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NEWS: Captive breeding of Cheetah in South Africa


South Africa is well-known for its intensive captive lion breeding industry, but its captive cheetah breeding side has never received the same exposure. As with lions, captive bred cheetah cubs are taken away from their mothers within days of birth to be hand-reared, which starts the habituating process.

They are then used for petting, walking with cheetahs, and as photo props from a few weeks old until fully grown adults, who then receive the status of “ambassador species”.

Cheetahs are smaller than lions and hence interaction with adult cheetahs is considered less dangerous. Nevertheless, about one quarter of all reported attacks in captivity in the last 10 years involved cheetahs.

We can only make an educated guess on the number of cheetahs in captivity in South Africa, which are estimated to be 600 – 1,000 cheetahs in 80 breeding and tourism facilities. Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre alone houses nearly 100 cheetahs, by their own admission.

Many of these facilities breed under the guise of conservation with promises of reintroduction into the wild and for the preservation of genetic material. Conservation supported reintroductions into the meta-population are only a handful per year.

So where do these cheetahs go? South Africa is the top exporter of cheetahs in the world – dead or alive, wild or captive bred. Many of these animals are legally exported under CITES with the majority exported for lifelong imprisonment in zoos. According to the Carte Blanche feature on 17 May, live cheetahs are sold for around ZAR 275,000.

Between 2008 and 2018, South Africa exported 422 live cheetahs across the world with the top three importers being China (101 animals), USA (64 animals), and United Arab Emirates (UAE) (47 animals).

This trend is extremely worrying, as the suffering both on the breeding side of the trade in South Africa and once exported is unimaginable. We know for example that the “pay-to-play” industry in zoos in the States is huge. Despite the fact that private ownership of exotic pets in the UAE was outlawed in 2017, many cheetahs are still bought as a status symbol. What happens to these poor animals in China is anybody’s guess.

Learn More on South Africa’s trade in live wildlife:


BREAKING NEWS: Emaciated captive bred lions found again at Slippers facilities

PRESS RELEASE: 13 May 2020

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) are in the process of laying animal cruelty charges in terms of the Animal Protection Act (APA), 71 of 1962, against Mr Walter Slippers, owner of two captive predator breeding facilities in Alldays, Limpopo.

During inspections in April and May 2020, the NSPCA found deplorable conditions with underweight lions, lack of adequate shelter, lack of veterinary treatment, as well as unhygienic and small enclosures. Slippers has 72 lions on his farm that is in liquidation and he allegedly feeds them one giraffe every two to three weeks.

On 12 May 2020, the NSPCA was informed that seven of the lions housed at one of Slippers’ facilities had escaped, which only supports their findings that he is not only negligent in the way these lions are kept from a welfare point of view, but also in terms of public safety.

“We believe that permits should never have been granted to keep lions, or any other predators like the tigers, as not only was the fencing wholly inadequate, but there are specific dramatic shortfalls on the welfare of these animals – and their welfare has consistently been compromised”, said Senior Inspector Douglas Wolhuter (Manager NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit).

The NSPCA has issued further warnings in terms of contraventions of the APA to all role players concerned. A deadline has also been issued for an action plan regarding the animals and the NSPCA is taking further legal action, which will see criminal charges brought about.

Sadly, this is not the first time that evidence of shocking animal neglect and cruelty has emerged from Slippers farms, with images of malnourished lions surfacing in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020.

In 2016, Slippers accepted responsibility and promised the NSPCA to address the frequency and quantity of his lion feeding regime, as well as providing them with ongoing vet records. With subsequent evidence of abuse in 2018 and now again in 2020, this shows that a consistent pattern of neglect is emerging from his farm, putting Slippers clearly in breach of his permit conditions and in further non-compliance with the APA.

“In the absence of national norms and standards for the captive keeping and breeding of big cats for commercial purposes, sadly animal cruelty and issues of neglect are rife in this industry”, says Dr Louise de Waal (Blood Lions Campaign Manager). “Considering there are at least 8,000 lions in captivity in South Africa, but probably many more, the scale of such welfare issues is of huge concern.”

In October 2018, the Lion Coalition wrote a letter to Mr. Sam Makhubele (LEDET’s Director for Wildlife Trade and Regulation) asking for Slippers predator breeding permit to be revoked and to ensure he would never be allowed to breed big cats again. Notwithstanding, Limpopo’s provincial nature conservation authority has renewed his permit every single time.

Slippers has a history of controversy going back as far as 2010, when he attempted to purchase two white rhino bulls for pseudo-hunts involving Vietnamese citizens. It is also reported that he used to transport cubs from his breeding facility to his restaurant, Toeka Plaas Kombuis, for visitors to interact with.

The NSPCA is the statutory body tasked with responding to wild animal welfare complaints, conducting its own welfare investigations and attempting to regulate good welfare practices without state funding or resources. They need your help to carry out their duty of looking after the welfare of our wild animals. Please help by donating HERE.


More information:

  • Contact: Dr Louise de Waal
  • Email: management@bloodlions.org
  • Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and campaign that blows the lid off claims made by the predator breeding and canned hunting industries in South Africa.
  • Blood Lions website: www.bloodlions.org

Images from Walter Slippers Lion Breeding Farm

February 2015
July 2016
April 2018
March 2020

NEWS: Blood Lions and Love Africa Marketing win at WTM Africa 2020

PRESS RELEASE: 12 May 2020

Blood Lions Campaign in conjunction with Love Africa Marketing have won “Most Compelling Digital Story” in the inaugural African Travel Week Travel & Tourism Awards this week

The WTM Awards aimed to shine a spotlight on “exceptional individuals and businesses which have written the most compelling stories in the book of African travel for 2019/20.”

The Blood Lions Campaign was launched following the release of the Blood Lions feature film documentary in July 2015. Currently in South Africa an estimated 10 000 – 12 000 predators, mostly lions, tigers, caracals and cheetahs, are held in captivity for commercial purposes. Many are used in exploitative tourism activities, such as cub petting, ‘walking with lions’ attractions, as photo props, and in voluntourism. The next stages in their short and unethical lifecycle is the captive (“canned”) hunting for their trophies and/or the legal export of lion bones to South East Asia for traditional medicine, contributing further to the escalating commoditisation of these wild animals.

The mission of the Blood Lions Campaign is to reach a broad global audience to increase awareness and knowledge around interactive captivity wildlife attractions and “canned” hunting, demonstrating that these can never be sustainable tourism options. It is a “call to action” to not only affect behavioural change around how to treat wildlife ethically, but also to precipitate change in policy through garnering support from the world’s most influential individuals and organisations.

“Blood Lions will continue to tell this heart-breaking South African story of the captive breeding and keeping of lions and other predators for commercial purposes,” says Blood Lions Campaign Manager, Dr Louise de Waal. “We will continue to work together with the South African tourism industry, so that tourism becomes part of the solution rather than the problem.”

“New features and technologies on websites and social media platforms are enabling marketers to get even more creative and innovative with campaigns. That is why we wanted to recognise the most compelling Digital story that showcased a holistic digital strategy that effectively marketed products and services in the African travel industry – WTM Africa”

“Our team was ecstatic when we were initially nominated as finalists in the ‘Agency and Digital’ categories, alongside some big names across Africa. Today we are even more so, after hearing we have won with Blood Lions – a truly passionate team that works hard every day to create change. A huge thank you to our team, partners and the public who have supported this campaign every year.” Nicola Gerrard, Love Africa Marketing Managing Director.

Love Africa Marketing is the digital media and strategy agency for a number of travel, tourism and environmental companies, NGO’s and campaigns in South Africa. Some of these include Blood Lions, Ranger Protect, Shark Attack, Afriski Mountain Resort and Semonkong Lodge.

Eight categories were established to celebrate the success of national, regional and city tourist boards and torecognise outstanding private sector companies and individuals, with the winners in each announced as: 

  • Most Compelling Tourism Story: Spring Marketing Campaign by Northern Cape Tourism Authority.
  • Most Compelling Innovation & Technology Story: Virtual Reality for Tanzania by Views4D.
  • Most Compelling Agency Story: CNN International Commercial for Farm to Table (Dangote).
  • Most Compelling Luxury Story: Table Mountain Ring by Shimansky.
  • Most Compelling Sustainability Story: International Dark Sky Certification Campaign by !Xaus Lodge.
  • Most Compelling Digital Story: Blood Lions Campaign and Love Africa Marketing.
  • Most Compelling Adventure Story: Pioneer Trail by Gondwana Game Reserve.
  • Most Compelling Foodie Story: Africa’s Original Elephant Dung Gin by Indlovu Gin.

Megan Oberholzer, Portfolio Director for Africa Travel Week says that the judging panel were impressed by the standard of entries. “There is some sterling work being done out there to showcase the best of our continent to the world on a variety of different platforms. It’s a privilege to have been able to see these fantastic campaigns collected in one place, as we judged them – and we can’t wait to see how the creators apply their creativity to continuing to share Africa’s beauty and diversity with the world in the face of the challenges the global travel industry faces for the foreseeable future,” she says.

Award details: https://africa.wtm.com/en/Awards/

Blood Lions: www.bloodlions.org

Love Africa Marketing: www.loveafricamarketing.com

PRESS RELEASE: A call to the World Health Organisation to assist in a permanent ban on wildlife market

06 April 2020

Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, Blood Lions together with over 240 leading animal welfare and conservation organisations from around the world call on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to publicly and unequivocally state the proven link between live wildlife markets, and the serious and established threats to human health.

They further urge the WHO to recommend that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine, in line with its stated mission to serve public health at all times.

The most authoritative voice on infectious diseases in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director – National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) stated last week that “it just boggles my mind…, when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface that we don’t just shut [wildlife markets] down.” He called for the international community to put pressure on governments to force a global closure of live wildlife markets.

Acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, adds weight to this discussion by stating that “countries should move to prevent future pandemics by banning “wet markets” that sell live and dead animals for human consumption.”

Blood Lions calls on Dr. Zwelini Mkhize (Minister of Health) and Prof Lynn Morris (Interim Executive Director – National Institute for Communicable Diseases) to take concrete measures with regards to a national permanent ban on live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife, their products and derivatives in traditional medicine, to avert another pandemic.

The costs to South Africa as a country and the international community at large fighting a global pandemic of this nature are vastly higher than the costs of preventing a future crisis. Failure to enforce a permanent and global ban on all wildlife markets could well allow for a similar, but potentially more severe, disease to emerge in the near future.

The COVID-19 outbreak is believed to have originated at wildlife markets in China, where bats and pangolins may have been involved in the transmission chain of the virus to people. However, let’s be clear, it was the actions of people that created this environment to facilitate transmission.

Credit: Patrick George Illustration with Blood Lions Campaign

The risk of zoonotic disease transmission is heightened by the fact that most of these wildlife markets are unregulated and operate under extremely unhygienic conditions. In addition, the circumstances under which wild animals are typically farmed or collected from the wild, transported to and held at such markets are far from ideal. Overcrowded conditions with different species held in close proximity and onsite slaughter, cause immense stress on the animals weakening their immune systems. All this, coupled with the presence of people at wildlife markets, provides the ideal environment for pathogens to spread.

Blood Lions states that “South Africa could inadvertently export Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) through the export of lion bones. Bovine TB is prevalent in wild and captive lions and the risk of zoonosis is very real, not only for people in South East Asia directly involved in the consumption of lion bones products, but also for workers at the breeding farms and lion abattoirs in South Africa.”

This is not the first time that infectious diseases have been linked to wild animals in recent years. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), part of the coronavirus family, is also believed to have emerged from wildlife markets in China and resulted in more than 8,000 human cases across 29 countries, and 774 deaths. Other outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, MERS, HIV, bovine tuberculosis, rabies, and leptospirosis, are all linked to wildlife.

Call to Action: https://lioncoalition.org/ban-wildlife-trade/
World Health Day Twitter Chat: https://lioncoalition.org/2020/04/03/world-health-day-twitter-chat/

More information:

Why do we have this urge to engage in the unnatural and pet a lion?

Written by Dr Louise de Waal
Pubished on 03 March, 2020

This is a question I have asked myself many times. Petting a predator is incongruous and unnatural, so why this obsession with petting wild animals in captivity? Why do we believe it is acceptable to put our own needs well above the animal’s requirements? Is it for that like-boosting selfie on social media? Does it make us look macho? Does it boost our ego? Is it for the thrill of adventure?

Over the last couple of decades, we have seen a significant shift in public awareness in the recognition that animals are sentient beings with the capacity to feel both physical and mental pain. People are becoming more cognisant of animal welfare, and awareness campaigns, such as Blood Lions, aim to educate the public on the exploitation and abuse involved with the captive breeding and keeping of lions and other big cats.

There are huge welfare concerns around taking cubs away from their mother within days after birth, which intentionally brings the females back into oestrus (become fertile) much quicker. The hand-rearing of those cubs with puppy dog formula often leads to nutritional deficiencies, diseases and even death. Captive predators are subjected to crippling intensive breeding cycles and are kept in inappropriate, overcrowded and often unhygienic conditions.

These unethical and brutal conditions are rife in South Africa’s intensive captive predator breeding industry and its associated lucrative chain of exploitative tourism activities. Our captive lion population is now estimated to be as high as 12,000 lions with 1,000s of additional other big cats, including cheetahs, leopards, caracals, servals, as well as exotic species such as tigers, jaguars, pumas and even ligers (crossbreed between lion and tiger).

The links between tourism activities, such as cub petting, walking with lions and volunteering and the “canned” hunting and lion bone industry are well-documented. Despite what the owners of petting facilities may tell the public, a hand-reared lion habituated to humans can never be returned to the wild and will ultimately only have value in the trophy hunting industry or lion bone export trade.

This incessant and legal commoditization of captive bred lions has led to the export of nearly 2,000 lions per year as live exports, hunting trophies or skeletons.

And still, we continue interacting with captive wildlife and sometimes even with animals in the wild.

Illustration by Patrick George.
Patrick George is an exceptional UK-based illustrator who has worked closely with BBC Wildlife, Blood Lions, Born Free Foundation, Sea Shepherd, United Nation World Wildlife Day, WildAid and YouthForLions in South Africa

Experts agree that we humans have a deep-seated need to connect with the wild – with nature. “The desire to form emotional connections with non-human living creatures has only gotten stronger as humans have traded forest-dwelling for office cubicles and concrete jungles”, states Susan Clayton (Psychology & Environmental Studies researcher – College of Wooster).

However, “it seems that the further removed our lives get from nature the more we are drawn to it in a dysfunctional sort of way”, adds Margrit Harris (Founder – Nikela).

Many parents will freak out when their child comes in contact with an unfamiliar dog, but we feel it is acceptable for our child to pet a tiger cub, a sub-adult lion and even an adult cheetah. There is a substantial risk when interacting with captive predators and the evidence is overwhelming with many incidences of attacks leading to injuries and even death.

Proponents will advocate that the interaction with captive wildlife serves an educational need. However, does it? In my personal experience, people are so excited to have their picture taken that their eyes glaze over and the information provided is no longer absorbed.

We need to put less emphasis on the entertainment value of captive wildlife and more on the unique storytelling around the species conservation, threats and challenges to truly create an educational experience. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.

Even better, we need to encourage people to visit our national parks and private game reserves to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Why not sit down today, on World Wildlife Day, with your children and watch a good wildlife documentary. Before you visit any captive wildlife facility, check out the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) tool to help you make the right decision in six simple questions. It guides you in identifying those wildlife activities to support and which to avoid.

Please remember that genuine sanctuaries do not breed or trade their animals, and they do not allow any human interaction. A true sanctuary offers the animals in their care a safe “home for life”.

Furthermore, please realise that any interaction with captive wildlife (petting, riding, walking, feeding or using them as photo props), whether it involves infants or adults, centres purely around satisfying your personal desires, but sadly never benefits the captive wild animal involved.

Coronavirus: China proposes immediate ban on wildlife consumption as food

Written by Blood Lions
Pubished on 26 February, 2020

The novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) epidemic remains a daily news item with many new cases appearing worldwide. Following the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan (China) in December last year, there are now three global hot-spots outside China, namely Iran, South Korea and the latest one Italy.

To date, the virus is believed to have infected more than 80,000 people globally and killed at least 2,700. 

In early February, the Chinese government issued a temporary ban on all trade in wild animals until the end of the “national epidemic”, after the virus was reportedly linked to a live animal market in Wuhan City, where both domestic and wild animals are sold. This has not been the first time that infectious diseases have been linked to animals in recent years. Others have included the Ebola virus disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), H7N9 Bird Flu, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

When a temporary ban was imposed, all sectors of government, academia, media and members of the public were urgently calling for the ban on wildlife markets and trade to be made permanent.

Last week, the Chinese authorities finally announced tougher new measures, including an unprecedented ban on the consumption of wild animals as food.

Blood Lions welcomes the proposed immediate ban on the consumption of wild animals and stricter enforcement measures of relevant legislation around wildlife trade, as announced by the Chinese government. We would like to point out that such a ban should be made permanent and not only applicable during a time when the threat of the coronavirus has the global attention.

The Born Free Foundation echoed our sentiment in a letter to the Director General of the World Health Organisation, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Director General of the Office International Epizoologie, undersigned by 236 organisations and individuals, including Blood Lions. They urged these three organisations to strongly encourage governments across the world to introduce and enforce legislation to close wildlife markets, particularly those at which trade in live animals is commonplace, and to introduce mechanisms designed to significantly and demonstrably reduce demand for live wild animals and products derived from them.

Although the Chinese proposed ban is a step in the right direction, the Standing Committee to the 13th National People’s Congress is still defining “special circumstances under which wild animals may be used for purposes other than consumption as food, such as for scientific research, medical use, and display”. This could mean that the use of lion bones for Traditional Chinese Medicine be made exempt from the wildlife consumption ban.

Blood Lions is extremely worried about this potential exclusion on the proposed wildlife consumption ban and urges the Chinese government to rethink their position, as there is a real and substantial risk of zoonosis in the lion bone trade. Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) is prevalent in wild and captive lions and risk of zoonosis in the lion bone trade is real. Not only for people in South East Asia directly involved in the consumption of lion bones products, but also for workers at the breeding farms in South Africa. The risk of contracting Bovine TB by, for example, South African lion abattoir workers is very real.

Linda Park (director Voice4Lions) says “we have been talking about the risks of TB in lion bones for a couple of years. The advent of the coronavirus epidemic, which stems from the wildlife markets in China, makes this even more important. Consumers of lion bones open themselves up to a drug-resistant form of TB, which is then spread from human to human.”  “The thought of drug-resistant TB spreading globally is quite terrifying and not to mention the other health risks in lion bones. We are indeed surprised that the consumption of lion bones has not been banned by the Chinese government, especially considering consumers are favouring bones with flesh left on them, which pose an even greater threat”, Park continues.

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NEWS: Blood Lions releases new ‘HOPE’ video clip

Blood Lions marks its milestones … there is hope?

Blood Lions is commemorating its 5th (or Wood) anniversary this year and we are using this time of “strength” to consolidate our efforts. Since the release of the Blood Lions documentary film, the campaign has made great strides in our aim to raise global awareness around the captive lion breeding and “canned” (captive) hunting industries, as well as its associated tourism activities.

To mark our 2019 milestones, we have released a new video clip to give HOPE to our supporters and the ongoing campaign. Even though there are now an estimated 12,000 lions in captivity in South Africa, bred purely for commercial purposes, there are also many encouraging developments resulting from our collective voices.

On social media we reached 7.4 million people across the globe in 2019 alone, making use of strong video and graphic content to spread our message. One such clip was the release of a powerful animation of the “Life Cycle of a Captive Lion” produced using Patrick George illustrations, which has been translated into nine different languages (English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Slovenian).

Blood Lions® has been aired in approximately 180 countries and territories around the world through TV channels including Discovery International, Animal Planet, MSNBC, TV Ontario, RTK, N-Tv, Planéte, People’s Weather, SABC3 and is now also available on Netflix Africa.

In 2019, we screened the Blood Lions film at 21 schools and universities reaching close to 2,000 students. The YouthForLions campaign pledge to not pet lion cubs or walk with lions was signed by nearly 2,000 young people from around South Africa.

The campaign was afforded pro bono online and print media coverage equivalent of over ZAR 7,5 million in 2019.

The icing on the cake however was the release of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) Guidelines and Tool to evaluate captive wildlife attractions and activities in order to help the industry and visitors to make responsible and ethical choices. We would like to congratulate SATSA on developing such solid and timely guidance for the tourism industry and travellers alike.

The SATSA guidelines draw a clear ‘line in the sand’ as to what is no longer considered as acceptable in terms of tourism experiences involving captive wildlife. This includes cub petting, walking with predators, training of animals to ‘perform’, “canned” or captive hunting and the trade in animal parts.

We would like to thank our donors, colleagues, partners and followers for their loyal support over the years. Without you, Blood Lions would not be able to give our captive wildlife a voice.

When travelling in South Africa, THINK before you VISIT, CUDDLE, WALK WITH, VOLUNTEER WITH or SHOOT wild animals being held in captivity.

For more information about the Blood Lions campaign:

  • Find our new HOPE video clip HERE
  • WATCH the full Blood Lions documentary feature film on Netflix Africa
  • View our 2019 Milestones HERE
  • Visit our website for more information
  • Follow us on social media to stay up to date

Blood Lions® 2019 Milestones

Since the film premiered in July 2015, the Blood Lions® Campaign team – in collaboration with key partners around the world – has made great strides in their efforts to raise global awareness around captive lion breeding and “canned” (captive) hunting, as well as the associated tourism activities. We would like to thank our donors, colleagues and associates for all their support over the last year.

Digital Media

  • The Website: over 224000 visitors;
  • Film trailer: over 400 000 views on YouTube
  • Facebook: over 95 000 followers; reach over 5 300 000 in 2019 year;
  • Twitter: over 7 500 followers; reach over 980 000 in 2019;
  • Five international tweet storms with involving millions of supporters worldwide;
  • Online support from top international influencers and celebrities: Ellen de Generes (48m followers), Miley Cyrus (19.4m), Ian Somerhalder, (6.21m), Nikki Reed (.8m), Shannon Elizabeth (.6m), Emily VanCamp (.5m), Ricky Gervais (12m), Pamela Anderson (1.1m)

Online and Print Media Coverage:

  • ZAR 61 200 287.04 pro bono media coverage globally to date.


  • Blood Lions® TV airings (full feature and 54min TV edits):  aired in approximately 180 countries/territories around the world through the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, MSNBC, TV Ontario, RTK, N-Tv, Planéte, People’s Weather and SABC3;
  • Film Festivals:  Blood Lions® was nominated for screening at seventeen international film festivals in 13 countries during 2016/2017;
  • Subtitled versions Blood Lions®:  The film is subtitled into Spanish, German, Hebrew and Portuguese;
  • Blood Lions® curated global screenings:  Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Finland, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America, Zambia, Zimbabwe;
  • Blood Lions® promotional clips:  9 short clips produced for the campaign, featuring different aspects of the captive lion breeding and canned hunting industry;
  • Blood Lions® short promotional “teasers”:  “less than a minute” teasers produced for social media platforms and presentations;
  • YouthForLions “Life Cycle of a Captive Bred Lion”:  educational clip released and produced in 9 different languages for online channels across the world;
  • 30,000 Blood Lions® DVDs distributed through leading South African retailer Woolworths:  largest number of DVD’s ever ordered in SA through their Bags4Good “Born to Live Wild” campaign.


  • African Responsible Tourism Awards ARTA17: Blood Lions® “Born to Live Wild” Tourism Campaign won joint “Overall Winner” as well as the Gold;
  • Award for “Best Responsible Tourism Campaign” ARTA 17;
  • FICMA Golden Sun 2016:    Award for best Feature Documentary;
  • 59th CINE GOLDEN EAGLE AWARDS: Finalist Nonfiction Content / Feature – Current Affairs and Investigations Category;
  • WESSA “Award for Corporates2016;
  • GENESIS AWARD 2015: Humane Society US: Best International Feature Documentary Film.

2019 “Milestones”

  • Online and Print Media Coverage:  ZAR 7 526 515.88
  • Netflix Africa:  Blood Lions feature film documentary was launched on their channel
  • 21 School and University screenings and presentations attended by close to 2 000 students around the world;
  • Presentations and talks:  Numerous presentations and talks were given, together with a number of media and radio interviews, including Salaamedia, Ballito 88FM, Durban Youth Radio, Northglen News, Newsweek, Animal People Forum, the Durban Natural Science Museum, WESSA, World Travel Market Africa and London, among others
  • Tourism Trade Fairs and workshops attended and/or exhibited:
    • SATSA: workshop prior to the publishing of their Wildlife Interaction Guidelines and Tool;
    • World Travel Market, Cape Town;
    • Travel Indaba, Durban; 
    • We Are Africa “Conservation Lab”, Cape Town;
    • World Travel Market, London: Blood Lions presented and took part in a panel discussion to a large international audience.
  • “Life Cycle of a Captive Lion” Animated video:  a short animated clip – produced from illustrations by Patrick George – was released in January, and translated during the year into nine different languages: English, Dutch, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian and Slovenian.
  • “Born to Live Wild” Tourism Campaign & Pledge
    • TreadRight Foundation, Cullinan Holdings and The TravelCorporation partnership. This group – comprising over 50 brands and travel companies – signed the “Born To Live Wild” Tourism Pledge, bringing the total to close to 200 signatories representing almost 3 000 member organizations around the world
  • “Youth for Lions” Campaign
  • Partnership Activations and Events:
    • Blood Lions YouthForLions “Live Wild” workshop was attended by approximately 100 students in Durban. Topics included conservation, careers, responsible tourism and ethical wildlife volunteering, and presentations were hosted by WildlifeAct, Thompsons Africa, Project Rhino and Youth 4 African Wildlife. The Wilderness Leadership School sponsored two Wilderness Trails and – in collaboration with WildlifeAct – Blood Lions hosted a wildlife monitoring weekend in Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve for the winning team.
    • Humane Society International – Africa:  HSI sponsored Blood Lions advertisements in Airlink’s SKYWAYS magazine in January and March to help spread awareness around the cub petting industry.
    • Inside Edge:  A fund-raising event at Katmandu Restaurant in Ballito, KZN, was hosted by Inside Edge in support of the Blood Lions campaign.
    • World Animal Protection:  WAP partnered Blood Lions with a Mango Airlines In-Flight advertisement in their MangoJuice magazine in December to create further awareness around the cub petting tourism industry.
  • The Lion Coalition: Various letters and emails were written and sent by the Coalition, including open letters to President Ramaphosa, the Minister of Justice and the Rhino & Lion Park.  A number of Media Statements were also published, including releases about the SATSA’s “Animal Interaction Guidelines”, and the Reclassification of 33 wild mammal species under the Animal Improvement Act.
  • #WildlifeTourismChat: Blood Lions took part in the #WildlifeTourismChat on Twitter to commemorate World Rhino Day.  Blood Lions’ tweets had 10 000 impressions from the Wildlife Tourism Chat .
  • Comrades Marathon: The 94th annual Comrades Marathon took place in KwaZulu-Natal in June. Jackie Polchet and Monique Van Den Busken ran in support of Blood Lions to raise funds as well as to create awareness.
  • Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA): SATSA released their Animal Interaction Guidelines in October.  The Guide draws a clear ‘line in the sand’ as to what is not acceptable in terms of human interaction activities with wildlife. This includes cub petting; walking with lions; training of animals to ‘perform’ or behave unnaturally; attractions which cause animals fear or discomfort; and activities that put animals or humans in any kind of danger.
  • Animal Improvement Act (AIA): Lions were among 33 wild species which were reclassified as “farm animals” under an amendment to the Animal Improvement Act. This was passed, without public consultation, by the previous Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa. The Lion Coalition issued a media statement in this regard.
  • Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Environmental Affairs (PCEA): A Blood Lions screening was held in Cape Town in November for approximately twenty government officials, including Members of Parliament from the ANC, DA, and IFP, as well as members of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees for Environment, Agriculture and Tourism.
  • “Last Lioness” Charity Cycle Ride: Blood Lions was the beneficiary of a charity cycle ride by the “Last Lioness” and long-time supporter Hannele Steyn, and fellow cyclist the “Last Lion” Mike Nixon. They cycled over 1 600km from Cape Town to raise awareness for Blood Lions and the Kingsley Holgate Foundation.  Hannele is the only woman in the world to have completed all 16 Cape Epic cycle races.

Top media coverage for Blood Lions and the wider industry in 2019: