Phasing out captive lion industry moving at slow pace

The captive lion industry in South Africa is a multimillion-dollar industry. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

The captive lion industry in South Africa is a multimillion-dollar industry. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 8, 2023


Pretoria - Two years have passed since the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment announced its intention to phase out the captive lion industry, but progress has been slow.

So says global animal welfare organisation Four Paws, who fear the government is showing signs of not knowing how to deliver the phase-out.

The captive lion industry in South Africa is a multimillion-dollar industry where about 12 000 lions are kept in captivity and bred for financial gain.

In every stage of their lives, they are used for profit, whether it’s from tourists petting cubs at predator parks, walking with juvenile and adult lions, taking selfies, canned hunting or trophy hunting and controversially for a lion bone trade. This is a trade that has a moratorium, but farmers have openly stated they stockpile bones in the hope that the ban on bone trade is lifted.

Four Paws said animal welfare at these facilities, whose primary goal is commercial gain, is often poor to non-existent.

“Throughout the farms in South Africa there is evidence of the intensive breeding in inhumane, dirty, overcrowded conditions, where the animals are often diseased or even inbred.”

South Africa has seen its reputation as a leader in conservation tarnished. Four Paws has stated that the country is the world’s largest exporter of big cats and big cat parts.

It further said that South Africa is perpetuating a demand for big cat parts, compromising conservation and enforcement efforts in other parts of the world and across all big cat species.

Barbara Creecy, the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, declared at the time of the announcement, two years ago, that “the captive lion breeding industry did not contribute to conservation and was doing damage to South Africa’s conservation and tourism reputation”.

Four Paws said a survey done by it in 2022 showed that 66% of South Africans do not support big cat farming for commercial purposes and 94% agree that big cats should receive better protection through laws and legislation.

Since the announcement in 2021, Creecy’s department has established a ministerial task team to identify and recommend voluntary exit options and pathways for facilities in the captive lion industry.

Last month, the task team invited participants who would consider a voluntary exit from the captive lion industry, to register their details with it. It also called for stakeholder engagement where many organisations provided information on the topic.

Director of Four Paws in South Africa, Fiona Miles, said: “All five big cat species of the Panthera genus are in decline and given that all big cat trade is interconnected, we believe South Africa is contributing to the decline of big cat species globally. It has become an international issue that requires urgent action,” Miles said.

Pretoria News