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South Africa’s Fallen Pride: How Law and Government Fail to Protect Lions

Flawed laws, vested interests and problematic enforcement have allowed the captive-lion industry in South Africa to boom. Change, one expert writes, may need to come from outside.

A few weeks ago, inspectors made a gruesome discovery at a farm in the northwest corner of South Africa. More than 100 lions and other big cats were found suffering from neglect, parasites, mange and other health problems. Two lion cubs were too sick to walk; a third had to be euthanized.

Despite their illnesses, all of the lions on the farm were intended for use in “canned hunts” or to be slaughtered and sold for their bones.

In the wake of the investigation, the National Council for the Societies of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) charged the farm owner with animal cruelty. The criminal charge is unusual in South Africa, although the situation that produced it is not.

Indeed, humanity’s hot pursuit of the commercialization of nature is rarely more evident than in South Africa’s intensive breeding of lions. Despite years of local and international outcry, it’s still legal to use these former kings of the jungle in a range of lucrative commercial activities, including trophy hunting and exporting their bones.

It might seem strange that this commercial exploitation exists, given that South Africa is a self-proclaimed global leader in conservation. The country boasts some of the highest populations of charismatic megafauna in the world, including rhinos, elephants and lions. Yet for these and many other wildlife species in South Africa, high populations are largely due to the practice of “wildlife ranching,” which is not just allowed but even encouraged by the legal system.

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