lion safari

12,000 Lions Are Being Bred In Captivity To Be Hunted By Tourists

What if I told you that South Africa currently has 12,000 lions that have been bred in captivity, so they killed for sport by tourists? Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it’s true. 

Unfortunately, South Africa’s captive-bred lion industry isn’t new. Currently, they have over 400 facilities that house around 10,000 to 12,000 lions in captivity for three purposes [1]:

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Cub petting

Cub petting is an activity where tourists can come and play with lion cubs when they’re young, but the problem is they only stay young for so long, and they can’t be reintroduced into the wild. When these cubs grow up, they are usually abandoned, killed, or, you guessed it killed for sport by tourists. 

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“The temptation to cuddle or pet a lion cub might be inevitable, but it’s truly just a big scam. In doing so, you become part of the problem,” Says FOUR PAWS South Africa [2].

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Lion Bone Trade

Like the tiger, lions represent strength and bravery, which is believed in some cultures to transfer to the individual who consumes their body parts, specifically their bones. 

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The Blood Lions Campaign is an NGO that aims to end canned hunting and the exploitative breeding of lions on farms across South Africa [6]. Their campaign manager, Dr. Louse de Waal, has this to say about South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry. The industry “created a legal channel for lion bone that formerly did not exist in Asia and are the main supplement for the illegal tiger bone trade to Southeast Asia. Bones from captive-bred cats are illegally combined with tiger bones to continue fueling this trade,” Says Dr. Waal [5].

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“More and more evidence is showing that the Asian demand for tiger and lion bones and other body parts is driving illegal killings of wild lions in South Africa and in neighboring countries,” Dr de Waal continued.

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Along with canned hunting, the interest in lion bones is growing exponentially in East Asia as some people have confidence that lion bones can be used as a form of medicine. For a carcass of one lion, individuals are paying thousands of dollars [7]. 

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Over 1,000 lions are killed every year, so their bones can become a part of the lion bone trade. Since 2010, these numbers have tripled, which speaks to the growing popularity in the trade market and why more important, now than ever, to do something about it [3].

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Canned hunting

Canned hunting is a form of hunting with the sole purpose of killing lions (and other wild animals) who were bred in captivity. As if this wasn’t bad enough – these animals are kept in small enclosures and are unable to escape [4].

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“These animals are bred with the intention of slaughter, one way or another, whether for their bones or as hunted trophies. In addition to the global opposition to trophy hunting, the cruelty of ‘canned hunting’ is making South Africa a pariah in conservation and animal welfare and protection communities,” exclaims Audrey Delsink, Director, HSI-Africa wildlife [5].

An Unfair Game

These lions are bred in captivity, and then when tourists arrive, they’re released into small enclosures. The enclosures are made to be larger than a zoo but small enough to make sure that they can be found easily, not escape, and killed. 

To most of us, this sounds horrific. But some individuals pay upwards of $10,000 to hunt them [4].

Lord Ashcroft, an international businessman, and philanthropist traveled to South Africa to investigate the truth about captive lion breeding in South Africa. His discoveries were shocking, and with the information he uncovered, he published Unfair Game: An Exposé Of South Africa’s Captive-Bred Lion Industry and a short film: 

Warning – Graphic Content

Source: Lord Ashcroft [8]

‘It is no exaggeration to say that the abuse of lions in South Africa has become an industry,’ States Ashcroft. ‘Thousands are bred on farms every year; they are torn away from their mothers when they are just days old, used as pawns in the tourist sector and then either killed in a ‘hunt’ or simply slaughtered for their bones and other body parts, which are very valuable in Asia’s so-called medicine market,’ [9]. 

The exploitive treatment and killing of these amazing cats continue to grow in popularity all around the world. Luckily, many organizations, including Canned Lion and The Blood Lions Campaign, actively fight to stop their vile treatment and shut down breeding farms. 

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Chloe Crawford
Freelance Writer
Chloe Crawford is a communications associate for TD Insurance. Before this role, Chloe pursued her honors undergraduate degree in business communications from Brock University. Chloe takes pride in her storytelling abilities – specifically the impact her advice articles, and her articles about Indigenous issues have made.
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