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South Africa to crack down on captive lion breeding

May 2, 2021

Lions are frequently bred in South Africa for trophy hunting or to interact with tourists. The government hopes that the ban would boost the country's global image.

A pair of lions in the South African savannah
There are more lions on South African breeding farms than there are roaming free in the countryImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Guyt

The South African government announced on Sunday it would take steps to ban the breeding of lions in captivity following a review of the controversial practice. Lion breeding is relatively common in the country, with many of the animals later being killed off by trophy hunters. 

"Preventing the hunting of captive lions is in the interests of the authentic wild hunting industry, and will boost the hunting economy and our international reputation, and the jobs that it creates," South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy said in response to a nearly 600-page wildlife report that highlighted the practice. A 26-member panel, appointed by the ministry in 2019, drafted the report.

Saving wildlife with ancient hunting skills in South Africa

She said a ban on captive lion breeding would be to ensure "tourists will not be hunting animals that were taken out of the cage." The panel also advised phasing out captive rhino breeding and an evaluation of rhino horn stockpiles.

What makes captive lion breeding so controversial?

South Africa is the only nation to allow large-scale lion breeding, where the animals are often kept in packed cages or enclosures. The lions will later be killed by hunters or slaughtered by the farm so their bones can be exported to Asia.

Some of the animals are also trained to interact with tourists and allow themselves to be petted.

There are an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 lions held in captivity by some 350 farms, according to conservationist groups. Some 3,500 lions live in the wild in South Africa.

What did conservationists say about the ban?

The World Animal Protection Africa group said the move by the South African government is "courageous." Louise de Waal, a conservationist who helped produce a documentary about lion farming, said she was "extremely happy" by South Africa's decision.

De Wall has conducted research on the spread of infectious diseases on lion farms. She believes the practice could result in zoonotic diseases being spread from the animals to humans, creating a major health risk.  

According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), almost 200,000 lions roamed Africa a century ago, but lion populations have decreased 43% over the past two decades. The AWF is working to protect lion habitats and to keep them away from humans and lifestock in order to preserve their populations. 

wd/dj (Reuters, AFP)