In a joint scientific study, researchers from Blood Lions and World Animal Protection investigated the extent of the captive predator industry in South Africa. Using legislation, known as PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act), that gives everyone the right to obtain information, we gathered TOPS permit data to learn more about the nature and scale of captive breeding, keeping, hunting, and trade of big cats across South Africa’s nine provinces.

Explore our research findings below to learn about how South Africa’s varying national and provincial legislation has created blurred lines and a lack of regulation.

What did we learn about captive predators in South Africa? 

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Captive Predator Research

Read the original peer-reviewed articles about the extent and nature of South Africa’s captive predator industry and the Free State case study.

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about the research

Blood Lions in conjunction with World Animal Protection and Monitor Conservation Research Society carried out an extensive study to investigate the scale and nature of South Africa’s predator industry. 

Through the data we gathered, we were able to explore the landscape of the industry across South Africa’s nine provinces as well as concerns regarding challenges in record keeping, transparency, and compliance. 

Learn more about how we used the PAIA process, South Africa’s diverse legislation, our findings, and the changes happening in the political space right now. 

#Blurredlions Campaign


Join us as we unpack our research findings on the unregulated nature of the captive predator industry in South Africa.

A new peer-reviewed study by Blood Lions and World Animal Protection has recently been published, which exposes how legal loopholes and poor record keeping has resulted in the boom of a loosely regulated captive lion breeding industry in South Africa.

Our researchers reviewed national and provincial regulations that govern the captive predator industry and accessed records held by the nine provincial departments regulating the captive keeping, breeding and trade of big cats in South Africa.

Due to poor governance, it is near-impossible to track a captive-bred lion from birth to death in South Africa.

The absence of standardised and centralised record keeping across our nine provinces compounds this issue, and as a result we are unable to determine the exact size of the South African captive lion breeding industry.

The Free State and North West are the most attractive provinces for breeders and hunters due to their weaker laws regulating the captive industry.

Our recent report analysed various TOPS permits confirming that lions are transported from other provinces with stricter laws to either be hunted in the North West or euthanised in the Free State. This again highlights the issues around the exploitation of legal loopholes that are created at a provincial level.

Furthermore, the North West Province recorded 230 lion hunts in 2020, despite the country being in a hard COVID-19 lockdown for most of that year. This raises some red flags as to how these hunts were conducted under these lockdown restrictions.

The Free State and North West provinces’ lenient captive lion industry laws have resulted in legal loopholes being exploited by breeders and hunters.
The recent report by Blood Lions and World Animal Protection indicates that the Free State province is a major industry player in the breeding of lions for their bones, as regulations in this province permit mass euthanasia.
When lions are purely bred for their bones, their welfare is often of little concern to those breeding them.
In 2019, 130+ skeletons were exported with CITES permits despite a zero CITES lion bone quota and reports that no legal exports were made during this year.
How did this happen?
According to a recent article by the Smithsonian Magazine, “A recent report by OCCRP, an international investigative-reporting consortium, the country’s customs agency claims it never received guidance that exporting lion skeletons was illegal, and it said it has not been monitoring shipments except to check for an export permit and cleanliness.”
The recent peer-reviewed paper published by Blood Lions and World Animal Protection also suggests that there may be bone stockpiles… but where are they? There are no stockpile records kept on a national nor provincial level.
These are highly concerning questions that need answers.
National government requires Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) reports to be conducted annually by trained inspectors for various captive wildlife permits to be renewed.
However, this process is riddled with inconsistencies.
Our findings revealed that:
  • Requirements and reporting styles for EMI reports across provinces vary hugely, with some being very detailed and others containing scarce information.
  • EMI officials are not trained to look for animal welfare issues, which means this is often overlooked or reports on welfare concerns are vague.
  • EMI officials cannot enforce welfare regulations – this responsibility sits with the NSPCA, who receive no government funding.
These #BlurredLions result in the captive wildlife suffering as welfare issues may not be addressed or enforced and dealt with effectively.

The captive lion breeding industry largely relies on a paper-based provincial record keeping systems with no centralised database and no transparency.

This has resulted in issues such as the following:
  • Re-issuing of certain permits, even though officials’ reports have indicated that the facility is non-compliant,
  • The inability to effectively and accurately track and monitor the types, quantities and movements of captive wild animals.
Without a clear line drawn by legislation, comprehensive record keeping as well as enforcement, the captive lion breeding industry will continue to thrive unchecked.
It’s time to do away with the #BlurredLions and #CancelCaptivity.
Our recent peer-reviewed study with World Animal Protection revealed a number of serious management and compliance issues connected to South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry.
This includes potentially fraudulent activities relating to the (re-)use of microchips, operating without valid permits, and incomplete, inconsistent, and unclear record keeping.
This is in part due to a lack of capacity on the side of the provincial authorities to upkeep an archaic paper-based record system, as well as their inability to conduct regular and thorough inspections at facilities.
Finally, a lack of transparency and coordination has created the perfect environment for loopholes in compliance to be exploited.
It’s time to rid of the #BlurredLions and #CancelCaptivity in South Africa.
South Africa’s Free State province is home to about one third of all captive lion facilities across South Africa. According to research findings, the province also appears to be the hub for mass euthanisia, for the bone trade with Southeast Asia.
In addition, the small number of hunting permits were issued compared to the high number of transport permits to for example the North West province, where many captive hunts occur. This indicated that the Free State breeds lions that are killed in captive hunts elsewhere in the country.
Follow on as we unpack our findings linked to legally obtained data linked to the Free State’s captive lion breeding industry.
Our data highlighted several serious regulatory concerns, especially regarding the (re-)use and misuse of microchip numbers.
Between 2017 and 2020, more than 500 unique microchips could not be followed through the system, and in some cases, a microchip number had been reused up to four times.
This raises serious concerns that lion farm owners may deliberately be reusing microchip numbers which creates further opportunities for traffickers to launder wild-caught and/or unregistered captive-bred lions into the legal trade.
Between 2017 and 2020, 1 087 lions were euthanised in South Africa’s Free State province. Of these lions, only 747 could be identified with a microchip number.
Lions that were euthanized in the Free State in 2019 and 2020, during a CITES zero export quota for lion bones, most likely became part of a growing and largely unregulated lion bones stockpiles that exists in South Africa and which warrants further investigation.
It’s time to put a stop to the #BlurredLions and #CancelCaptivity.
The captive predator industry has implications beyond South Africa’s borders with live lions being exported to facilities primarily in Southeast Asian countries for commercial and breeding purposes. At least 188 lions and 76 other wild cat species were exported from 2017 to 2020.
Whilst conducting our research with the World Animal Protection, we looked at live lion exports through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and it is unclear what happens to these animals and the conditions in which they are kept once they arrive at their international destinations.
It is possible that some of these exports of live lions circumvent the zero CITES lion bone export quota and are eventually killed at their import destinations to feed the persisting demand for lion bones and other lion products.
South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry is governed by contrasting legislation across multiple provincial and national authorities, with disparities and legal loopholes, which create opportunities for harmful and fraudulent activity.
Our research with the World Animal Protection highlights various areas of great concern, which need the urgent attention of Minister Barbara Creecy.
Blood Lions continues to support the move of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to phase out captive lion breeding and put an end to the industry in South Africa.