5 Environmental challenges associated with keeping lions in captivity

The NSPCA – National Council of SPCAs found the following environmental issues during welfare inspections on commercial captive lion breeding facilities in South Africa:

  • Lack of adequate shelter and shade to accommodate all animals in the camps, which can lead to hypo- or hyperthermia and dehydration (Health Domain);
  • Shelters in disrepair with dangerous protruding objects, rubble and wire around the camps, which can lead to injury (Health);
  • Too many animals kept in small enclosures that can lead to stress (Mental) and fighting related injuries (Health);
  • Cubs, sub-adults and adults kept in separate enclosures, which can lead to stress (Mental) and acting abnormally (Behaviour).

South Africa – it is time to #CancelCaptivity

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7 Nutritional concerns associated with keeping lions in captivity

The welfare conditions identified by the Blood Lions and World Animal Protection research teams were categorised according to a globally accepted animal welfare model – Mellor’s Five Domains Model.

In the Nutrition Domain, 7 conditions were linked to nutritional concerns in keeping lions in captivity globally, such as malnutrition, obesity, dehydration, and vitamin deficiencies.

Fulfilling the optimal dietary requirements for lions in captivity poses a significant management challenge and if not done correctly, can lead to anaemia, dehydration, obesity, emaciation and nutrient deficiencies. These in turn can lead to diseases, such as poor oral health, malformation and spinal cord degeneration, which are part of the Health Domain

The NSPCA – National Council of SPCAs continuously inspects commercial captive lion breeding facilities in South Africa and regularly encounters the following nutrition related issues:

  • Inappropriate diet for adult lions, e.g. rotting meat or chicken instead of a carnivore specialised diet; 
  • Feeding cubs dairy or Esbilac instead of specialised milk formulas, and not adding supplements to ensure the necessary nutrition; 
  • Lack of adjustment in diet for over- and underweight animals.

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15 conditions associated with negative mental experiences of captive lions

Boredom, frustration, neuroticism, irritation, frustration and anxiety are just some of the 15 negative mental experiences of lions kept in zoos, sanctuaries and wildlife parks that our recently published research identified.

These conditions in the Mental Domain can in turn lead to abnormal behaviours and even physical health issues, as chronic stress and irritation can lead to fighting which can result in injuries and other health conditions.

For example, during welfare inspections on commercial captive lion breeding facilities in South Africa, the NSPCA – National Council of SPCAs found that predator and prey species were sometimes kept in adjacent enclosures without partitioning, which can lead to extreme stress and anxiety.

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19 conditions associated with negative behaviours of captive lions

Our research recognised 19 conditions associated with negative behaviours affecting lions kept in zoos, sanctuaries and safari parks globally, including excessive pacing, unnatural aggression, self-harm, refusal of food and withdrawn behaviour.

A wide range of issues that fall in the Behaviour Domain, such as unnatural aggression, can lead to fighting related injuries, like tailbone fractures and bite wounds, that can cause severe pain and infection if left untreated. Such conditions are part of the Health Domain.

Negative behaviours can be the cause of chronic stress and anxiety resulting from inadequate environmental conditions. For example, unnaturally small living conditions can lead to immense stress that presents itself as unnatural behaviour like excessive pacing or withdrawal.

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124 Health conditions identified that affect lions in captivity

Our recently published research identified 124 health conditions affecting lions kept in captivity globally, ranging from a broken tooth and a tail-bone fracture due to fighting, to anorexia, parasitic infections, paralysis of the legs, and cardiovascular diseases.

Pathogenic health conditions (for example diseases caused by bacteria and viruses) can emerge as a result of inadequate environmental conditions, such as poor hygiene, leading to an increased prevalence in some infectious diseases, like mange.

Our research is supported by the findings from welfare inspections on commercial captive lion breeding facilities in South Africa in which the NSPCA identified the following conditions that fall in the Health Domain:

  • Animals infested with untreated parasite infestations;
  • Diseased and injured animals that received no veterinary treatment;
  • Enclosures that were not cleaned regularly to remove excess faeces, litter and uneaten carcasses

These health conditions are just some of the reasons why we need to #CancelCaptivity. 

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Over 170 challenges found when keeping lions in captivity

The Blood Lions and World Animal Protection research team reviewed over 90 scientific papers and identified 170 different physical and psychological conditions associated with the keeping of lions in captivity.

Our researchers found that:

  • 124 conditions were in the Health Domain such as disease and injury;
  • 19 conditions were behavioural problems like abnormal pacing or self-harm;
  • 15 conditions affected the lion’s mental state such as fear and anxiety;
  • 7 conditions were linked to the nutrition the lions received, such as too much or too little food;
  • 5 conditions were associated with environmental challenges such as a lack of stimulation. 

These conditions provide us with insight into the significant challenges experienced when keeping lions and other big cats in captivity. 

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Globally accepted animal welfare model used by our research team

The welfare conditions identified by the Blood Lions and World Animal Protection research team were categorised according to a globally accepted animal welfare model, namely Mellor’s Five Domains Model.

Mellor’s Five Domains Model of animal welfare is a widely used assessment tool. It is an holistic approach in which the mental condition of an animal is considered in addition to the four physical or functional states (namely nutrition, environment, health and behaviour) to comprehensively assess an animal’s welfare state. 

By evaluating these Five Domains, an objective assessment can be made of the welfare challenges experienced when keeping lions and other big cats in captivity. 

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