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PRESS RELEASE: Pressure mounts on SA government to ban captive lion breeding

4 December 2020

Condemnation of South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry and its associated spin-off industries has increased globally, with lion scientists, conservation bodies, international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and SA’s leading tourism body presenting a joint pack of letters to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries that all call for a ban.

CAPE TOWN – Representatives from two conservation and animal welfare organisations – Humane Society International-Africa (HSI-Africa) and Blood Lions – backed by other NGOs, scientists and the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) ­– presented five separate letters to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries today.

In their letter, 41 international and national animal welfare non-governmental organisations (NGOs) assert that “… the captive lion breeding industry lacks regulations, enforcement controls and standards. Industry-generated Norms and Standards are voluntary and are not enforceable. As a result, there are pending cruelty prosecutions of lion breeding facilities for contraventions of the Animals Protection Act 71 of 1962.

Bred for slaughter
South Africa has 400+ facilities with approximately 10 000 – 12 000 lions in captivity for commercial use in cub petting, canned hunting and the lion bone trade. According to HSI-Africa, most lion trophies exported from South Africa are lions that originate from the country’s notorious captive lion breeding industry.

“These animals are bred with the intention of slaughter, one way or another, whether for their bones or as hunted trophies. In addition to the global opposition to trophy hunting, the cruelty of ‘canned hunting’ is making South Africa a pariah in conservation and animal welfare and protection communities,” said HSI-Africa wildlife director Audrey Delsink.

The NGO letter also raises a red flag relating to pandemics: “The current Covid-19 pandemic causing global chaos with its credible link to wildlife utilisation should be raising concerns about the zoonotic risks, including tuberculosis, associated with the unregulated, inadequately monitored intensive breeding, slaughter and utilisation of lions.” 

A recent study by Blood Lions and World Animal Protection identified 63 pathogens recorded in both wild and captive lions, as well as 83 diseases and clinical symptoms associated with these pathogens. This includes pathogens that can be passed from lions to other animals and to humans.

HSI-Africa and Blood Lions are among the stakeholders that made comprehensive submissions on captive lion breeding to the Ministerial High-Level Panel that was appointed in November 2019 to review existing policies, legislation and practices relating to the management and handling, breeding, hunting and trade of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. Their recent presentations were marked by a unanimous call for an end to the captive lion breeding industry.

Read the NGOs’ full letter here:

No scientific evidence
The scientists’ letter – which represents many leading lion conservation and research organisations, as well as individuals with extensive experience, scientific knowledge and credibility in the field of lion biology, conservation and management – states that “Captive bred lions are not suitable for reintroduction [to the wild] or species restoration and would not be good candidates due to inbreeding and behavioral concerns.”

Dr Louse de Waal, Blood Lions campaign manager, agrees: “There is no published, peer-reviewed evidence to show that the commercial captive lion breeding industry provides direct conservation benefits to wild lions or provides a buffer to lions in the wild.”

The scientists also say that South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry has “created a legal channel for lion bone that formerly did not exist in Asia and are the main supplement for the illegal tiger bone trade to Southeast Asia. Bones from captive bred lions are illegally combined with tiger bones to continue fueling this trade.”

“More and more evidence is showing that the Asian demand for tiger and lion bones and other body parts is driving illegal killings of wild lions in South Africa and in neighbouring countries,” added Dr de Waal. In support of the scientists’ letter asking for an end to captive lion breeding, an additional endorsement letter was also signed by 41 scientists. Signatories to that letter include the US Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).

Read the lion scientists’ full letter here:

The scientists’ endorsement letter:

Impact on tourism
The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), joined by 115 national and international tourism organisations, requested Minister Barbara Creecy to:

  1. declare a zero CITES export quota for lion bones;
  2. declare a moratorium on lion breeding in captive breeding and tourism facilities;
  3. no further permits to be issued for new facilities; and
  4. bring an end to captive lion breeding and all its associated spin-off industries as Parliament directed in December 2018 through the implementation of the National Assembly Resolutions.

SATSA represents more than 1 300 inbound tourism products across southern Africa. “The voice against tourism experiences that include animal interactions has grown so loud that many tourism businesses are feeling the impact of these changes – irrespective of how ‘ethical’ their approach to animal interactions may be. The impact has also filtered through to how South Africa is being perceived as a tourism destination,” said the association.

Read the tourism full letter here:

SATSA’s endorsement letter:

– ENDS –

Media contact HSI-Africa: Marisol Gutierrez, HSI-Africa media and communications manager, +27 72 358 9531,

Media contact Blood Lions: Dr Louise de Waal, Blood Lions campaign manager, +27 76 148 1533,

Images are available at:

About Humane Society International
Humane Society International works around the globe to promote the human-animal bond, rescue and protect dogs and cats, improve farm animal welfare, protect wildlife, promote animal-free testing and research, respond to natural disasters and confront cruelty to animals in all of its forms.


About Blood Lions

Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and campaign that works to end the predator breeding, canned hunting and lion bone trade industries in South Africa.

World Tourism Month video:  Let’s Do Better. Be Better: