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Coronavirus is a crisis for South Africa’s captive lions, campaigners warn

This is an excerpt from an article written by James Fair and published online by Monga Bay on 13 April, 2020

Wildlife conservation and animal welfare groups say the COVID-19 pandemic ought to spell the end for one of South Africa’s most controversial businesses: the captive breeding of lions.

It is widely accepted that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that has precipitated the global crisis, came from wildlife (bats or pangolins are the most likely sources), and campaign groups long opposed to lion breeding on an industrial scale in South Africa argue this highlights the risks that humans face by exploiting wildlife for meat or other purposes.

They also say that many of the breeding centers — of which there were 297 in 2016, according to a paper published last year by researchers Vivienne Williams of the University of the Witwatersrand and Michael ’t Sas-Rolfes from Oxford University — rely on tourist income that has now vanished. These centers will now either allow their lions to starve to death or euthanize them — a charge denied by the industry.

From cuddled cubs to lion bone wine

Outside of zoos, lions are bred and kept in captivity in South Africa for three main reasons: to provide “cub-petting” and “walk with lions” experiences to visitors at theme parks; to be sold to other operations for “canned” trophy hunting; and, when they die or have been killed, to be sold on to countries in East Asia, where their bones are turned into wines and other products for the traditional medicine market.

Some lions go from being cuddled by tourists to being killed by wealthy big-game hunters, before their skeletons are sold into the bone trade. Many NGOs, both within and outside South Africa, have been arguing for more than a decade that the industry is inhumane and should be closed down.

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