South Africa is tugging at the controversial lion industry in captivity

The South African government has made a major decision to end national captive lion breeding. This includes closing facilities that offer tourist experiences such as and lion cuddling and stopping the commercial use of prisoners and their derivatives.

Reports of the decision were released on May 2, when the government released expected details detailing the future management, breeding, hunting, trafficking and treatment of captive lions, as well as other species such as , and rhinoceros. According to a government press release, the high-level panel consisted of a diverse group of individuals, including conservationists, scientists, government officials, community leaders, economists, legal professionals, business professionals and social care professionals.

“The panel found that the captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion protection due to the negative impact on ecotourism, which finances the protection and protection of lions in the broadest sense, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry and the risk of lion trade stimulating poaching and illegal trade, “Barbara Creecy, The Minister of the Environment stated in his statement.

Lions on a captive breeding farm in South Africa Image courtesy of Blood Lions.
Lions on a captive breeding farm in South Africa Image courtesy of Blood Lions.

The move is celebrated by conservationists and animal welfare advocates who have been working for years to uncover many of the problems associated with the captive lion industry, including the unhygienic and stressful conditions to which lions are commonly exposed in these facilities. These conditions not only affect the health of the animals themselves, but also create the perfect environment for the spread of dangerous pathogens among animals and for the spread of diseases to the human population.

“It’s a significant shift in thinking, and it’s much, much bigger than anyone would have thought a year ago, or even six months ago,” said Ian Michler, director of Blood Lions, a non-profit organization who has worked on the issue for the past 25 years. , Mongabay said in an interview. “And this is the first time we believe we have a ministry or government that is truly committed to tackling these issues.”

“Blood Lions has been campaigning against this cruel and unethical industry and its side activities for many years, and we are extremely pleased that the Minister has decided to end the commercial captive lion industry,” said Louise de Waal, director and campaign manager at Blood Lions. stated in his statement. “We commend the Minister for her strong leadership and would welcome the chance to play a role in assisting her, various departments and entities in the phasing-out process.”

The report’s recommendations must now go through parliament for legal ratification, but Michler says he is very confident that things will move in a positive direction.

“We believe that the fact that the government has ratified it – and the minister – and that the report has been published are really good signs,” he said.

According to official government estimates, there are 366 lions in captivity in South Africa, holding approximately 8,000 lions. But according to Blood Lions, there could actually be 450 facilities with up to 12,000 lions.

Lions on a captive breeding farm in South Africa Image courtesy of Blood Lions.
Lions on a captive breeding farm in South Africa Image courtesy of Blood Lions.

Many of these places have historically offered tourists the opportunity to pet lions, walk with them, or even shoot in an artificial hunting environment, a controversial practice known as canning. There are also breeding or breeding facilities that supply lions for tourism purposes, but also kill lions for their skin, meat, skeletons and other parts of the body, some of which are used to make wine and other products for market.

Between 2016 and 2017, the NSPCA Wildlife Conservation Unit inspected 95 lion breeding and keeping facilities and found dozens of them that kept lions in inadequate areas without proper hygiene, food, enrichment or even veterinary care for injured or sick lions.

“If it’s difficult and complicated to take care of two big cats in real … conservation programs, what’s going on in some of these facilities, where there’s a completely different ethos, and it’s about packing as many animals as possible [into facilities] Do they behave commercially for different experiences and body parts? “Neil D’Cruze, global head of wildlife research at the World Animal Welfare, said Mongabay in an interview. “Especially with the NSPCA’s finding of how terrible and really terrible the conditions were for the animals inside.” It really triggered alarm bells. “

The COVID-19 pandemic probably brought further challenges to the lions in these captured facilities as tourism stalled. Experts say many centers will euthanize their lions or allow them to starve slowly.

Shutting down the captured lion industry will require a phase of phasing out, says Michler. According to him, the first and most important step is to ensure that these lions no longer behave. An audit of the sector must then be carried out in order to fully understand which lions can be relocated to real refuges and which of them need to be humanely spent.

“Experts – veterinarians, social care professionals – will decide on these issues,” he said.

D’Cruze agrees that ensuring that lions stop behaving is an important first step in ending the captive lion industry.

“It’s a real win for wildlife,” he said. “I think a commitment to change is the boldest and most important step.” [There’s] there will be difficult steps on this path, but with this majority percentage, everyone is trying to achieve the same goals. The aim is to ensure that this is the last generation born under these conditions in this system. “

This article by Elizabeth Claire Alberts was first published on May 3, 2021. Main image: Lions on a captive breeding farm in South Africa Image courtesy of Blood Lions.

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