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World Lion Day: No reason to celebrate in South Africa

This is an excerpt from an article written by Iga Motylska and published online by Conservation Action Trust on 9 August, 2020

World Lion Day (10 August) celebrates one of South Africa’s most iconic species, yet despite dwindling wild lion numbers, they are also threatened by a burgeoning trade sanctioned by the Department for Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF).

Since the Cook Report exposed South Africa’s canned lion hunting industry in 1997, captive lion numbers have steadily increased. Around 8 000 to 12 000 captive-bred lions are kept in more than 360 lion breeding facilities across the country. Many of these operate under expired permits while being non-compliant with the Animals Protection Act (APA) or the Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations.

The Blood Lions documentary (2015) and Unfair Game book (2020) both exposed how these breeding facilities frequently prioritise profit over welfare. Lions often lack the most basic welfare requirements, such as sufficient food and water, adequate living space and medical care. Without adequate legislation or welfare audits to hold facilities accountable, there’s little incentive to maintain healthy lions, especially when their value is found in their skeletons.

“We need norms and standards which are aligned to APA and that speak to the absolute best welfare practices available,” says Douglas Wolhuter, National Senior Inspector and Manager of the NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit.

These commercial facilities farm lions for petting parks and walking safaris which feed into the “canned” (captive) hunting industry and bone trade. Others punt fraudulent voluntourism initiatives that parade as conservation projects or sell lions into the legal live wildlife trade.

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