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Predator Breeding & Keeping Industry – South Africa

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Blood Lions Campaign

The Blood Lions goal is to bring an end to canned hunting and the exploitative breeding of lions and other predators on farms across South Africa. The multiple award-winning Blood Lions® feature documentary premiered in 2015. At the same time the Blood Lions Campaign was launched to create global awareness around the captive predator breeding, canned hunting and lion bone industries, as well as the related exploitative wildlife interactive tourism practices.

Captive Predator Population

South Africa is one of the only African countries that allows the breeding and keeping of predators in captivity for commercial purposes, including lions, cheetahs, leopards, caracals, servals, as well as exotic species such as tigers, jaguars, pumas and even ligers (crossbreed between lion and tiger).

In July 2019, the Minister of Environment, Forestry & Fisheries (DEFF) stated in response to Parliamentary questions that there are 366 captive facilities registered in South Africa in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA): Threatened or Protected Species Regulations, 2007 (TOPS) holding a total of 7,979 lions in captivity.

Blood Lions believes that the captive predator population is highly underestimated. The captive lion population may be as high as 15,000 lions with 1,000s of other big cats that are bred and kept in captivity, including an estimated 800 – 1,000 cheetahs and 1,000 – 1,500 tigers. A large proportion of the captive predator facility are based in the North West and Free State provinces.

Wild Lions

In 2016, an IUCN assessment showed that lion populations across the African continent had declined by 43% over a 20-year period (or 3 lion generations). As few as 20,000 lions might now remain occupying as little as 8% of their historic range. The reasons for this decline include habitat degradation and fragmentation, reductions in prey animals, human-lion conflict, and, importantly, trade in lion products (particularly bones).

Lack of Conservation Value of Captive Lions

Lion ecologists and conservationists state there is no conservation value in the breeding of lions in captivity, as none of the animals kept in captivity can be used in relocation programmes. These captive lions are tame, ill-equipped to survive in wild areas, human-imprinted lions lose their fear of humans and can pose a risk to

people, and genetically compromised. Apart from these facts, there is no need to reintroduce captive bred lions into the wild, as South Africa’s population is stable.

If there is no conservation value in the captive breeding and keeping of predators, why is the captive population so substantial?

The lifecycle of Captive Bred Lions (and other Predators)

  • Cubs are ripped away from their mothers within a few days of birth in order to bring their mothers back into oestrus (become fertile) much quicker.
  • Many of these cubs are introduced into petting enclosures at 3-4 weeks of age, to provide tourists with selfie opportunities, while international paying volunteers hand-rear the cubs.
  • As the animals grow, they are used for other interactive tourist activities, such as ‘walking with lions’.
  • Many captive predators are also abused in the advertising and film industry.
  • Most of these activities are offered under the guise of conservation with emotional stories like the cubs were abandoned, orphaned, or the mother didn’t have enough milk. Visitors and volunteers are also told that these lions are destined to be returned to the wild as part of a conservation programme.
  • This lucrative chain of exploitative tourism activities also poses significant risk to workers and visitors’ safety, including fatalities, through physical interactions with habituated lions and other big cats. This has resulted in at least 37 reported incidents affecting no less than 40 victims since 2006, including 12 deaths.Plenty more unreported incidents have occurred over time.
  • .Commoditization of Captive Bred Lions
    The incessant and legal commoditization of captive bred lions has led to the export of nearly 2,000 lions per year as live exports, hunting trophies or skeletons.

Live lion exports:

  • 2008 – 2017: South Africa exported 1,895 live lions under CITES for zoos and breeders overseas
  • 95% of exported live lions are captive bred
  • Top importing countries are China, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Vietnam

Trophy Hunting:

  • 2008 – 2017: South Africa exported 8,855 lion trophies under CITES
  • 80% (possibly more) of the exported lion trophies are captive bred
  • Top importing country is USA, followed by Spain, Russia, China and Canada.

Lion Bones:

  • 2008 – 2017: South Africa exported 6,634 lion skeletons under CITES weighing a total of about 70tonnes.
  • Top 3 importing countries, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (48%), Vietnam (44%) and Thailand(5%).
  • Even though the lion bone trade is perceived to be a “by-product” of the trophy hunting industry,90% of all exported skeletons include the skulls, indicating that many facilities exist purely to supply the Southeast Asian bone trade.

Legal Lion Bone Export Quota set by DEFF

The lion bone export quota was agreed at CITES CoP17 in 2016 through an annotation to the Panthera leo Appendix II: Although a zero quota remains for wild lions, “an annual export quotas for trade in bones, bone pieces, bone products, claws, skeletons, skulls and teeth for commercial purposes, derived from captive breeding operations in South Africa, will be established and communicated annually to the CITES Secretariat”.

The setting of a legal lion bone quota by DEFF lacks a sound scientific basis and is driven solely by the economic principle of supply and demand, i.e. South African lion breeders can produce more lion skeletons than the set quota and have built up stockpiles.

On the 6th August 2019 in the High Court case NSPCA vs DEA and SAPA, Judge Kollapen ruled that the setting of the lion bone quota in 2017 & 2018 is “unlawful and constitutionally invalid”. He stated that “….it is inconceivable that the State Respondents could have ignored welfare considerations of lions in captivity in setting the annual export quota.”

Traditional Chinese Medicine

  • Tiger bones, alongside other body parts, have been used in the production of Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) and tonics for centuries, to treat a variety of ailments including arthritis, rheumatism, back problems, general weakness, and headaches. There is however no credible evidence for the efficacy of the vast majority of these remedies.
  • The trade in lion bones legitimises the product among consumers and stimulates the demand for lion bones, mostly as a substitute for tiger bones, and compromises enforcement efforts.
  • The vast majority of exported lion skeletons (98%) are destined for Laos and Vietnam, which are known hubs for illegal wildlife trafficking, including South African rhino horn products.

Welfare Concerns

  • The intensive captive breeding and keeping of lions and other big cats creates serious welfare concerns, particularly with the increasing profit-driven commodification of lion products.
  • Often basic needs, such as water, food, shelter and medical care are lacking.
  • Inbreeding is common creating offspring with compromised health and genes.
  • Lion slaughterhouses have been established to facilitate the mass slaughter of lions to supplyskeletons for international trade with no regulations in place creating a range of welfare concerns.
  • Welfare concerns are also associated with tourism facilities, varying from removing cubs within daysof birth, handling cubs up to 8-10 hrs per day, sedating subadults on walks, to training wildlife likecircus animals, and substandard enclosures.
  • Captive wildlife populations are at risk from disease, especially when these populations are kept insmall and overcrowded enclosures. This increases the risk of zoonosis, where an infection or disease is transmissible from animals to humans, such as is lion tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium bovis.
  • DEFF has repeatedly stated that it does not have a mandate to look after the welfare of wild animals in captivity, as they believe this duty falls under the ambit of the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Land Reform (DARDLR). In turn, DARDLR passes the buck to the provincial authorities, who pass the responsibility to the NSPCA.

Global Tourism Trends

  • Global trends of responsible tourism are showing that tourists and the wider industry are moving away from exploitative wildlife interactions.
  • In late 2019, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) published Southern African industry guidelines and a tool on captive animal interaction, showing the world that South Africa can lead the way on animal welfare and ethical wildlife tourism.
  • To date, 170 tourism operators from around the world have signed the Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ pledge, representing nearly 3,000 members. By signing the pledge, they commit to not knowingly support any operator that contributes to the cycle of captive breeding, canned hunting and commercial exploitation of wild animal species.
  • Many professional hunting associations have distanced themselves from canned hunting, including the US-based Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club.
  • Since 2015, 40+ major international airlines have refused the cargo of lion trophies.
  • Countries like Australia, France, Netherlands and USA have implemented bans on the import of liontrophies.
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