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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…..