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The Captive Predator Industry in South Africa: What our Research Revealed #4

In 2021 we undertook an immense research project to better understand the extent of the captive predator industry in South Africa. Through our research, we hoped to gather information to gain insight into the unregulated nature of predator breeding, keeping and trade across the country. We wanted to get a better understanding of the extent and nature of the industry which meant we needed to get a sense of the sheer numbers of big cats in facilities and the types of activities that involved these predators, such as captive hunts, euthanasia, breeding, transport, and trade. It was also necessary to understand how officials carry out their responsibilities, like inspecting these facilities. With this information we could comprehend more fully the efficiency and compliance of provincial regulations and officials with regard to the captive breeding, keeping, and trade of big cats in South Africa.

Background to the Political Processes

South Africa is one of the few countries globally that allows the intensive breeding and keeping of big cats. There are currently almost four times more lions in captivity than in the wild in South Africa. The country is now on the brink of phasing out captive lion breeding and here is what has happened so far:

    • In May 2021, Minister Barbara Creecy announced her intentions to end South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry for good, following the High-Level Panel recommendations.

    • Since then, a draft Policy Position and White Paper have been created as part of the formal legislative process.

    • In December 2022, a Ministerial Task Team was created to advise the Minister on the best approach for a voluntary exit strategy from the captive lion industry.

Let’s remind ourselves what the High-Level Panel recommended in order to bring an end to the captive lion industry.

The Minister should put in place:

    • a process to stop and undo the domestication of our iconic lions 

    • policy decisions for an immediate stop on
        • the sale of lion bones and other body parts,

        • “canned” lion hunting (or the hunting of captive bred lions), and 

        • tourist interactions with captive lions, such as cub petting and voluntourism.

Some of the reasons for the High-Level Panel to make these recommendations included that the captive lion industry:

    • presents a threat to South Africa’s tourism reputation and its reputation as a leader in wildlife conservation,
    • creates little economic benefits as well as relatively few jobs,
    • does not contribute meaningfully to transformation in South Africa,
    • does not contribute to the conservation of wild lions,
    • presents major animal welfare challenges, and
    • presents major human health concerns and creates safety issues for workers, owners and tourists,
    • as well as several other reasons.

Even though the South African government intends to phase out the captive lion industry, it is currently still fully legal to breed lions in captivity, to pet lion cubs, to hunt captive-bred lions and to export live lions from our country.

Only lion bones have not been legally allowed to be exported from South Africa since 2019. 

However, we need to implore the Minister to not only address the captive lion industry, but to include all indigenous cats (including cheetahs, leopards, caracals and servals) and exotic species (like tigers, jaguars, and pumas) in this process.