Skip to content

PRESS RELEASE: World Tourism Day

27 September 2020

Lion farms could put public health and thousands of animals at risk of disease.

A joint scientific study by Blood Lions and World Animal Protection highlights how lion farms in South Africa pose a potential health risk to thousands of local and international tourists, as well as the work force and respective communities.

Researchers from the two organisations reviewed almost 150 scientific studies investigating diseases in African lions. They identified 63 pathogens (including bacteria, parasites and viruses) that affect both wild and captive lions, some of which can be passed from lions to other animals, and some to humans. They also compiled a list of 83 diseases and clinical symptoms associated with these pathogens, highlighting the potential harm they can cause to the health of both animals and people.

In South Africa, more than 8,000 lions are bred and kept on commercial farms for tourism, hunting and the bone trade. Wildlife farms can be a hot bed for diseases, especially when poor hygiene, poor diet, and other stresses associated with captivity weaken wild animals’ immune systems. Diseases can spread rapidly when large numbers, and sometimes even different species, of wild animals are kept in the same enclosures, as this increases the risk of transmission.

The health risks are not only of concern for lions but also for people. Zoonotic diseases can be passed between animals and humans when people come in close contact with wildlife. Many lion farms promote direct contact with the animals for tourism activities, where people pay to pet and hand-rear cubs, as well as recreational hunting for “trophies”. Farmed lions are also killed so their bones can be exported to Southeast Asia for use in traditional medicine products, requiring many industry workers to handle lions during the slaughter, preparation and export of the skeletons.

Graphic by Patrick George

Captive lions can carry a range of harmful pathogens that can affect humans, including Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Despite the large numbers of lions bred in captivity and the long list of diseases found to affect them, the researchers did not find any scientific studies investigating health and diseases on commercial lion farms in South Africa. Without this vital information it is impossible to effectively prevent, monitor or manage potential health risks on these farms.

Dr Louise de Waal, campaign manager for Blood Lions says “the research identified substantial gaps in our knowledge base concerning the captive lion breeding industry, which can have huge health implications for farm workers and tourists. With the High-Level Panel expected to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) around the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of among others lions before the end of the year, we hope that they will take note of these important findings”.

As the world struggles to respond to the current global health pandemic, it is more important now than ever to be aware of public health risks from contact with wild animals and to reduce risks wherever possible.

With tourism slowly beginning to reopen, we have the opportunity to do better. To be better. To create a greener and kinder tourism without wildlife exploitation. The kind of tourism that keeps it wild,” de Waal adds.

Please be a voice for our lions and join all the other tourism organisations, as they make a difference by signing our letter, with HSI Africa, addressed to the South African Government calling to stop the captive predator breeding and its associated spin-off industries.

Watch this video clip to learn more:

Online link to tourism letter:

Link to peer-reviewed paper on zoonosis:

More information:

  • Contact: Dr Louise de Waal
  • Email:
  • Blood Lions is an award-winning documentary feature film and campaign that blows the lid off claims made by the predator breeding and canned hunting industries in South Africa.
  • World Animal Protection is a global organisation with 14 offices around the world and for 55 years they have been protecting animals from needless suffering. From the frontlines of disaster zones to the boardrooms of large corporations, they are fighting to create better lives for all animals.