South Africa currently has approximately three times more lions in captivity than in the wild. It is estimated that there are anywhere between 8 000 and 12 000 predators, possibly more, being held in small enclosures on what is estimated to be well over 250 captive predator breeding facilitiesacross the country. These animals are exploited at every phase of their life cycle and despite the claims being made by the breeders, this industry has nothing to do with conservation. Thousands of unsuspecting tourists and volunteers visit our country to touch or ‘rehabilitate’ these predators and are unaware that their money contributes to the fraudulent and exploitative use of these animals.
In most instances, these predator facilities are nothing more than commercial operations breeding and exploiting animals for a range of activities, from canned hunting and the bone trade to the extremely lucrative cub petting, ‘walking with lions’ and volunteer activities.
Captive bred lions and other predators in South Africa lead a heart breaking life and the cycle is never ending. This can often be applied to cheetah, leopard and tiger.
The Life Cycle of Captive Bred Lions
STOLEN:Generally lion cubs born in captivity are removed from their mothers when they are between 3 and 10 days old and are misleadingly passed off as ‘orphans’ or ‘rescues’. This practice forces the females back into intense breeding cycles where they can give birth up to 4 times faster than lionesses in the wild. Watch “The Life Cycle of a Captive Bred Lion”
CUB PETTING: These cubs are often hand reared, bottle fed and petted by paying volunteers and tourists who are made to believe that they are helping these ‘orphaned’ lion cubs in order to be released back into the wild. Nothing could be further from the truth. These cubs grow up without a fear of humans, are unable to hunt on their own in the wild and are often severely genetically compromised due to inbreeding. Because of this, the entire conservation community has made it clear that hand-reared, tame lions have no conservation value as they cannot be reintroduced back into the wild. Watch “Wildlife Volunteers – Conservation or con?”
LION WALKS: When the cubs grow bigger and become too dangerous for intense handling, they are moved or sold to facilities that offer ‘walking with lion’ activities. These sub adult lions are trained, often in the same way as circus animals, to climb trees and pose for ‘selfies’ with paying tourists. Watch “Should we be petting cubs and walking with lions?”
CANNED HUNTING: Once the lions become too old and boisterous to be in contact with humans, many are sold to canned hunting facilities where the lions are shot and killed in confined enclosures by trophy hunters. Others may be sold to traders as breeding stock for new facilities or into private collections around the world. Watch “What is Canned Hunting?”
LION BONE TRADE: The cycle of exploitation is completed with the lion bone trade. Lions in captivity will often be euthanized or slaughtered in order for their bones to be exported to Asia. The bones are used to supplement the tiger bone trade and are used as a substitute for Tiger Bone Wine or to be made into Tiger Bone ‘Cakes’. Watch “What is the Lion Bone Trade?”
The Conservation Facts
‘Canned hunting’ refers to the shooting of captive bred and/or tame animals in confined areas. It also covers other definitions such as captive hunting, high-fence hunting and ranch hunting. Ethical hunting organizations around the world have condemned the practices of canned or captive hunting.
Very few, if any of the private lion farms and predator breeding facilities in South Africa can be regarded as genuine conservation operations. Few work in conjunction with recognized lion ecologists and scientists, or any of the internationally recognized predator conservation agencies and none of them are members of the African Lion Working Group.
According to lion ecologists, there have not been any successful lion reintroduction programmes using captive bred and hand reared lions in South Africa, as lion conservationists warn that captive bred lions are not suitable for ‘re-wilding’. Furthermore, they say that there is no need as South African wild lion populations are stable.
There are only a handful of authentic wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa and they do not breed or trade, nor do they allow any human interactions with the animals in any way. Genuine sanctuaries build their facilities for the benefit of the animals, not to maximise commercial exploitation.
The lion bone trade is a relatively new revenue stream for South African breeders. It has come about as lion bones are now being used as an alternative for tiger bones in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We are concerned that the lion bone trade may well become the primary revenue stream for the breeders and that this will promote the breeding of lions on an industrial scale.
As has been the case with various other wildlife species, a legal trade often stimulates demand and promotes a parallel illegal market. This will in turn put pressure on wild lion populations.