Africa’s lions are facing an unprecedented crisis. Loss of habitat, reduced prey numbers, increasing conflict
with a rapidly growing human population, unsustainable hunting practices, and increasing demand for lion
products (particularly bones) in international trade, are all taking their toll. The most recent assessments by
the International Union for the Conservation of Nature suggest that as few as 20,000 wild lions remain
across the continent, occupying just 8% of their historic range. Scientists predict that, without concerted
action, further devastating declines will follow over the coming decades, leading to localised extinctions.
The rapid expansion of the commercial lion breeding and canned hunting industries, particularly in South Africa,
is a cause for real concern. From small beginnings a decade or so ago, there may now be as many as 8,000
lions and other predators spread across more than 200 captive breeding facilities, many languishing in poor
conditions. These animals are unashamedly exploited for profit by their captors at every stage of their often short
lives. Cubs are removed within a few days of birth in order to bring their mothers back into breeding condition
quickly, and to provide unwitting tourists with cute photo props and misguided volunteers with cubs to handrear
in the mistaken belief that they are genuine orphans and that, one day, they are destined to be returned to
the wild. As the animals grow, they are used for other tourist activities such as ‘walking with lions’. The ultimate
fate for many of these unfortunate animals is to be shot in a ‘canned hunt’ by a paying ‘hunter’, usually from
overseas, to be killed so their body parts can be exported to Asian markets, or to be cycled back into the
Far from contributing to lion conservation, lion breeding poses an additional threat to wild lions through the legal
export of lion bones, mainly to Asia. The trade stimulates demand for lion bones, which are increasingly used as
a substitute for tiger bones in wines, tonics and ‘traditional medicines’. This in turn incentivises poachers to
target wild lions and launder their bones into these markets. South Africa issued an annual quota for the legal
export of 800 lion skeletons in 2017.
This important report documents the growth of this appalling industry and the support it seems to enjoy from
senior politicians and officials within South Africa, in spite of overwhelming international condemnation. It also
highlights links between the industry and organisations involved in the trafficking of rhino horn and other wildlife
products, and with the heinous and fast-expanding trade in donkey meat and skins.
Born Free’s origins and philosophy are closely tied to the plight of Africa’s lions. We cannot stand by while
these magnificent animals disappear from their African homelands. We cannot permit them to become mere
commodities, to be bred and exploited for the sole purpose of turning a profit regardless of the wider
consequences for the species and the direct impact on individuals.
If we are to secure a future for Africa’s lions, the lion breeding and canned hunting industries must be closed
down, with responsibility resting squarely with the South African government for ensuring that such a process
is conducted with intelligence, humanity, and above all compassion for the animals concerned.
We must focus on keeping Africa’s lions in the wild, where they belong.
Will Travers OBE
Born Free Foundation
Read full report here: Born_Free_Lion_Breeding_Report