Information Sheet: Parliamentary Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting
Conservation Action Trust
20 August 2018

Should we be farming lions to slaughter?

The Problems
No conservation value
Inadequate welfare standards
Lack of regulation
Inability of DEA, DAFF and Provinces to enforce regulations
Unethical and cruel
International condemnation

Effect on other lion populations

South Africa’s captive breeding of all carnivores is contrary to policies in other range states (e.g. Namibia where no captive breeding of large carnivores is allowed) and in fact undermines them.

South Africa’s actions are compromising the biodiversity preservation abilities of neighboring countries. Poaching rates for body parts have escalated in countries such as Mozambique, with a 67% decline in numbers in Banhine and Limpopo National Parks in the last three years, all of which had body parts removed for Asian markets. Similar losses have been reported in a study in Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique, where 50% of lions in a study area there have been killed for body parts in the same time period.

One of the key internal issues within South Africa is the welfare one, with no norms and standards for the captive housing of lions and many cases of abuses. Lions are generally kept in poor conditions and suffer physiological trauma due to poor facilities and total foreign social structures, etc.

Legally DEA is acting outside of their remit in permitting the use of captive bred animals.

South Africa is despised throughout the world for its captive breeding industry and its totally callous disregard of the impact, effect, welfare and consequences of its policies with respect to captive breeding and wildlife trade. Instead of being a leader in the world in thinking and applying world norms and standards, South Africa appears archaic, myopic, and unable recognize the disgust with which its policies are recognized throughout the more enlightened world. This is damaging Brand South Africa in very serious ways.

Welfare Concerns

Poor welfare standards and cruelty across all aspects of the lion breeding and commercial use (breeding, cub petting, trade, hunting standards,  ‘put and take’ hunting ).

The welfare standards in breeding for hunting and petting are deeply concerning, but the move to breeding for lion bone as the primary product carries added and increased concerns.

For trophy hunting , the lion has to at least be in an acceptable condition. For bone production, this is not required and the welfare standards and cruelty worsen. The methods used in destroying or slaughtering the lion for bone production are unacceptable – e.g. shooting through ear or eye with .22 soft nose bullet to prevent damage to skull. 

Lack of Regulation & Standards

The DEA\DAFF mandate issue has resulted in an industry that has grown and established itself in the absence of regulation / standards on the keeping, handling, management and slaughter of lions (and other predators, tigers are involved as well. For over a decade the lack of regulation has been highlighted and yet DEA have allowed industry to carry on growing knowing there is an absence of regulation and standards.

Provinces set conditions for cage size etc but not for welfare. Splintered legislation.  SAPA have internal standards that have not been through any official approval or consultation process.

Membership of SAPA is voluntary and these standards cannot be enforced. DAFF do not respond to any communication on this. Proposed changes to NEMBA to allow for a care/wellbeing clause mean that it could be at least two years before any formal standards are introduced.  Imposing standards retroactively on existing permits is a lengthy and very difficult process.

Both provinces and DEA have expressed lack of capacity and resources to monitor existing facilities. 

There is a lack of proven conservation value and the potential risks posed by the captive breeding industry.  A huge cruel, unregulated industry that is growing which has no proven conservation value and may pose risks to not just lion but other big cat species is doing massive damage to South Africa’s reputation globally – both on the conservation side and with the general public. 

There is a lack of public consultation and process . The public is ignored over welfare and conservation in favour of a few captive lion breeders. Access to information is part of this – DEA cannot or will not give out precise numbers of captive breeding facilities and PAIA is required to get information. Even the SPCA which is mandated by an act of parliament to address and regulate welfare cannot get access to this information for monitoring and inspection purposes.  

Wildlife trafficking and crime with known links to transnational organised crime syndicates has grown exponentially since 2015. There are links between criminal activities with lion and tiger bone trade and rhino horn. The app 11 status requires an export permit but not an import permit for example for lion bone. Lion bones disappear into a untraceable black hole. Wildlife crime costs us economically, socially and from a security perspective. 

The captive lion breeding industry in South Africa is exclusively geared to generating money and serves no credible conservation purpose. The unintended consequences of consumptive use of lions from the lion factories will leave investors out of pocket, the law in a mess, lions liable to mistreatment and mass euthanasia and/or an almost un-manageable legacy of vast collections of captive lions (and other animals that are part of the same industry). 

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has called for the termination of the practice of breeding lions in captivity for the purpose of ‘canned shooting’, and for captive breeding of lions to be restricted to facilities whose documented mandate is as a recognised, registered conservation project. Many international and South African conservation scientists, non-government organisations and hunting associations have condemned the industry.

The export of bones and skeletons from captive-bred lions in South Africa stimulates international demand, facilitates laundering and compromises law enforcement. There is increased risk to wild lions and other big cats species from poaching and trafficking. The South African authorities have thus far failed to effectively monitor or regulate the industry or curtail its links to organised crime.

Poor conditions at lion breeding facilities risks severely compromising the welfare of captive-bred animals. To date, both the DEA and DAFF have refused to accept responsibility for ensuring the welfare of captive-bred lions, thus permitting a deplorable situation to continue and further damaging South Africa’s international reputation. 

The lion breeding industry risks damaging South Africa’s reputation as leading wildlife tourism destination and a responsible custodian of its wildlife.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What does the term canned hunting refer to?

A: The term canned hunting came into popular use in 1998 after the Cook Report, a British current affairs television programme screened on ITV, which featured footage of a lioness being shot several times within a small enclosed area. The term soon became synonymous with any form of trophy hunting where hunters shot trophy animals within confined areas ensuring they had no or little chance of escape. And today, canned hunting is widespread in South Africa were large numbers of wild animals are being bred in captivity specifically to be shot.

 Q: And how does canned hunting differ from captive hunting?

A: For many people, there is no difference between the two terms. The term ‘captive hunting’ has been introduced by the professional hunting bodies in an attempt to get away from the negative image associated with canned hunting. But in essence, captive hunting is as it reads; wild animals are being bred in captivity to be killed in captivity or confined areas.

 Q: What is ‘fair chase’ hunting?

A: Fair chase hunting refers to the traditional form of trophy hunting whereby professional hunters and their clients hunt in wilderness areas large enough for the free-ranging animals being pursued to have a chance of escape. These hunts can take up to 21 days, whereas canned hunts can be done in as little as 48 hours. Amongst the wider hunting fraternity, many fair-chase hunters regard canned or captive hunting as unethical or unsportsmanlike.

 Q: How many lions are killed in canned or captive hunts annually?

A: Attaining precise statistics in this regard is also something of a hit and miss affair as there seem to be loopholes in the reporting systems and different ways of reading the data. The principal sources for this information are the South African Predator Association, The Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and then the various government and provincial bodies. Between them, the statistics indicate that anywhere between 800 and 1 000 lions are being shot annually in South Africa. Just over 50% of these hunters come from the USA.

 Q: Does canned hunting occur in any other African country?

A: Not officially, but there may be certain cases taking place in some of South Africa’s neighbours. Canned hunting is however big business in some states in the USA, especially Texas where there are numerous ranches offering exotic species to be killed by canned hunters.

 Q: Does the hunting of captive bred lions take the pressure off wild lions?

A: The claim that hunting of captive bred lions takes pressure off wild lions must be challenged as there is no science on this at all. Canned hunting has merely opened up an entirely new market for hunters that would not have been able to afford a wild hunt. And where wild lion hunting has dropped away, this is only because bans on hunting have been introduced. In the countries that still allow wild lion hunting (Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania for example), demand for permits outstrips the quota. And we also know that wild lion populations across Africa continue to decline.

 Q: How many lions and other predators are being kept in captivity across South Africa.

A: According to government and private sectors sources, it is thought there are about 200 farms and breeding facilities holding somewhere between 6 000 and 8 000 predators in captivity. The vast majority, possibly as many as 7 000 of these, are lions. Other species include cheetah and leopard as well as a host of exotic animals such as tiger, jaguar and puma.

 Q: Why do we not have a clearer idea of the numbers of predators in captivity?

A: Almost all the captive predators are kept in private facilities and the body that manages them is known as the South African Predator Association ( However, not every farm or facility that carries predators is obliged to be a member, and not every member provides the association with updated statistics. With regards to the authorities, the nine provinces should also have an idea of numbers as they issue permits for breeding, keeping and transporting, but we have found these sources seem to rely on the private sector for their information.

 Q: Is it legal to breed predators on farms in South Africa?

A: Yes, as long as the farmer complies with the respective provincial legislation that focuses on minimum standards for fencing and enclosure sizes, it is legal to breed lions and other predators.

 Q: Why has predator breeding and canned hunting flourished in South Africa?

A: Primarily because every stakeholder – the government, provincial authorities, professional hunting and tourism bodies as well as conservation agencies have all turned a blind eye. As a result, the industries have grown significantly. Weak legislation, and in many cases a lack thereof, is another reason as the breeding of wild animals under farm conditions is an activity that falls neatly between the cracks in South Africa’s biodiversity and agricultural ministries. Because of this, the respective ministries, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries seem to be able to sidestep taking the ultimate responsibility.

Credit: Blood Lions