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An estimated R54 Billion Damage

New Report reveals an estimated R54 billion damage, over a decade, to Brand SA

On the first of a two-day South African Parliamentary inquiry into the lion breeding industry, a new nationwide survey of South African citizens reveals overwhelming public concern about the industry, with a vast majority agreeing it is harmful to the country’s international reputation. South Africans demonstrate a deep dislike of activities associated with this industry, including trophy hunting and canned hunting of tame lions. South Africans are concerned that another associated activity, the trade in lion bones, will stimulate market demand leading to increased poaching of lions and big cats. At the same time, a new report finds that captive lion breeding industry revenue is less than 2 percent of South Africa’s tourism revenue.

The survey showed that South Africans, by a more than three to one margin, agree that the industry is harming South Africa’s international reputation, with 65 percent strongly agreeing/agreeing, and 21 percent strongly disagreeing/disagreeing. More broadly, 56 percent of South Africans fully oppose/oppose to some extent trophy hunting, 60 percent fully oppose/oppose to some extent canned lion hunting. The survey also showed that South Africans, by nearly a six to one margin— 77 percent —strongly agree/agree with conservationists who say that the trade in lion bones will stimulate market demand leading to increased poaching of lions and big cats.

Results followed the recent local and global backlash against an announcement by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs that it would allow 1,500 captive-bred lion skeletons to be exported this year, nearly double last year’s export quota of 800 captive-bred lion skeletons. South Africa’s lion breeding industry has been under the spotlight since the 2015 release of the award-winning film Blood Lions® and the eponymous Blood Lions® Campaign, of which Humane Society International is a partner.

“These polling results demonstrate that South Africans are overwhelmingly concerned industry is harming South Africa’s international reputation,” said Audrey Delsink, executive director of HSI/Africa. “The captive lion breeding and the lion bone trade is South Africa’s claim to shame. Last year’s bone export quota of 800 was shocking enough: the increase to 1,500 in 2018 has no scientific basis and is a blatant license to kill for the lion breeding industry.”

A new report “The Economics of Captive Predator Breeding in South Africa” from the South African Institute of International Affairs, commissioned by HSI, states that the revenues generated by the lion cub petting and lion walking tourist attractions, while highly lucrative for these businesses, constitute only a tiny portion of South Africa’s overall tourism industry, which is one of the biggest employers in the country. The attractions constitute roughly 1.85 percent of the total value of tourism to the economy. Yet, the study finds, the lion breeding industry as a whole, including these attractions as well as canned lion hunting and skeleton exports, may seriously undermine the international reputation of South Africa and harm the tourism industry. There is already substantial body of evidence stacked against these notorious industries says the author, Ross Harvey, and it’s going to get worse. The study concluded that, “the opportunity costs and negative externalities associated with the predator breeding industry may – along with other threats facing wild lion survival – undermine South Africa’s brand attractiveness as a tourism destination by up to R54.51 bn over the next decade.”

Delsink says that public opinion and scientific analysis show that, instead of bolstering this unpopular industry by allowing the export of captive-bred lion skeletons, the South African government should be shutting it down. “The South African government can no longer justify a scandalous industry that is condemned by the South African public, only benefits the pockets of breeders and traders, and threatens to seriously damage South Africa’s tourism sector.”

HSI calls on the government to end this morally and socially reprehensible industry once and for all. The survey of 1,264 South African citizens, commissioned by HSI, was conducted by IPSOS on August 17, 2018. The survey weighted data to census. Margin of error is +/-2.71 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence.  The survey results can be viewed here.


  • The African lion is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora with a zero-export quota for wild specimens for commercial purposes. However, an annotation to the listing allows South Africa to establish annual export quotas for trade in lion bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from lions from captive breeding operations.
  • South Africa exports lion skeletons to Asia where they are used in medicinal tonics and as a substitute for tiger bone.
  • According to a report submitted to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee in July 2018, Vietnam was the largest importer of lion bodies and the second largest importer of skeletons. Lao People’s Democratic Republic was the largest importer of lion bones and skeletons. The United States was the largest importer of lion trophies. The report suggested that some lion poaching and trafficking involves organized criminal groups, and seizures alongside other commodities such as rhino horn indicate that these groups are dealing in multiple species.
  • There are between 6,000 to 8,000 captive lions in more than 260 facilities across South Africa.
  • There are fewer than 3,000 lions in the wild in South Africa and only about 20,000 wild lions across the continent.

On November 28, 2017, 25 individuals representing the African Lion Working Group, prominent lion researchers, National Geographic and leading wildlife conservation groups submitted a letter to U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It urged the United States to maintain its restriction on importation of captive-origin lion trophies.