Success for campaign against captive lion breeding in South Africa

  • 2 May, 2021
  • Philanthropy
  • Publications
  • Wildlife

I am delighted to inform those who have followed my campaign to end the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa that its government has today agreed to abolish it. This move is long overdue, but it is a triumph.

For years, I and others – notably Ian Michler and his Blood Lions team – have argued that this barbaric industry must stop. At last, those in power have paid attention.

Credit must go to the Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, who announced the measure today at the release of the High Level Panel report on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. She appears to have been prepared to take action in a way that her predecessors would not or could not.

In June 2020, I wrote to Ms Creecy and sent her a copy of my book about lion farming, Unfair Game, in which I was able to expose some of its practitioners via my undercover investigations.

In my letter, I wrote:

I have always loved South Africa. I have been fortunate to visit the country many times. I admire its people and am in awe of its environment and wildlife. I had always believed that as a nation it was doing its best to look after its animals but in 2018 I was so disturbed to learn about its lion farming industry that I decided to examine it independently. My findings have, sadly, confirmed that something has gone very badly wrong in your country.

After many months of inquiry, I have concluded that lions are being exploited in South Africa on an industrial scale. The level of wanton cruelty inflicted on the animals, and the lion trade’s links to criminality and corruption, have shocked me profoundly. What is particularly alarming is that South Africa’s authorities appear so relaxed about this state of affairs. Indeed, in many ways, they seem happy to enable the lion trade to exist.

The captive lion industry, which I believe has grown to be about 12,000 strong, has no conservation value. Worse, there is clear evidence that its existence now encroaches on Africa’s wild lion population as a result of poaching in order to widen the captive-born gene pool. As far as I can tell, the lion trade brings no tangible benefit to the South African economy either because it is principally a covert, cash-based business overseen by a comparatively small number of businessmen. Furthermore, its association with Asia’s bone trade is a major cause for concern on public health grounds, among other things.

This book will force many people to question South Africa’s commitment to its environment and its ecology. It may also raise doubts about the kind of country South Africa is becoming as the 21st century progresses. I make no apology for this. It is right that a bright light should shine on uncomfortable truths so that something can be done to turn the tide. There is widespread interest in this issue and I predict it will only grow.

Putting every argument to one side, I believe that the truth about this matter is, in the final analysis, simple. Those who object to South Africa’s lion industry do so on moral, ethical and welfare grounds. Those who argue in favour of having a lion industry in South Africa do so exclusively for financial reasons. On which side of the argument do you sit?

I also gave evidence to the High Level Panel last year and sent a copy of my book to every one of its members. Friends in South Africa tell me that my book was important in forcing those examining this issue to acknowledge that what has been happening to lions in South Africa is a travesty which besmirches the country’s reputation around the globe.

Today, Sunday 2 May, Ms Creecy made a speech in Pretoria as the report was released. The key passage in relation to captive-bred lions is as follows:

The Panel identified that the captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism which funds lion conservation and conservation more broadly, the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry, and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and illegal trade. The panel recommends that South Africa does not captive-breed lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially. I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation in implementation is conducted.

Lion farming in South Africa is a scandal. Behind the veneer of the respectable tourist industry, thousands of big cats are beaten, drugged, starved, shot and skinned every year for nothing more than profit. The serial exploitation of these creatures from birth to death and beyond is truly awful. So is the lion trade’s links to international crime syndicates who sell the bones of big cats in Asia. Just imagine – there are about 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa at any one time, against a wild lion population of only 3,000. Such abhorrent statistics have left the authorities with few options other than to act.

There is still a long way to go. I have no doubt that further battles lie ahead, and I will continue to do my bit to fight those battles. But today’s news is an important step in the right direction.

Next, parliament must agree to pass the necessary legislation to outlaw this barbaric trade, and the police must then enforce that new law. It is heartening to think that in future, lions in South Africa will not be bred for the bullet.

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