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South Africa pulls the plug on controversial captive lion industry

This is an excerpt from an article written by Elizabeth Claire Alberts and published online by Mongabay on 03 May, 2021

The South African government has made a landmark decision to end the nation’s captive lion breeding industry. This includes closing down facilities that offer touristic experiences like canned hunting and lion petting, and halting the commercial use of captive lions and their derivatives.

News of this decision was made public May 2, when the government released a much-anticipated that detailed the future management, breeding, hunting, trading and handling of captive lions, as well as other species such as elephants, leopards and rhinoceroses. The high-level panel consisted of a diverse group of individuals, including conservationists, scientists, government officials, community leaders, economists, legal experts, trade experts and welfare experts, according to a government press release.

“The Panel identified that the captive lion breeding industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism, which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry, and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade,” Barbara Creecy, South Africa’s environment minister, said in a statement.

The move is being celebrated by conservationists and animal welfare advocates who have worked for years to expose the numerous issues associated with the captive lion industry, including the unhygienic, stressful conditions that lions are commonly subjected to at these facilities. These conditions not only affect the health of the animals themselves, but also create the perfect environment for dangerous pathogens to spread among the animals, and for disease to spill over into the human population.

“This is a significant shift in thinking, and it’s far, far greater than anyone would have thought a year ago, or even six months ago,” Ian Michler, director of the nonprofit organization Blood Lions, who has worked on this issue for the past 25 years, told Mongabay in an interview. “And it’s the first time we believe that we have a ministry or government that is really committed to dealing with these issues.”