Lions Classified as Farm Animals:

Why You Should Care

Written by Cath Jakins, Blood Lions Coordinator

Published on 28 October, 2019

Humans have been domesticating and farming animals for decades, millennia even.

However, people all around the world are becoming so much more aware of the ethical and welfare-related issues involved in captive breeding and animal husbandry. Recently, there has been “a move globally to say ‘ok, intensive farming may not be the way to go, people want free range animals’. And yet, on the wildlife side, we are reverting back to intensive breeding under the worst conditions,” says Karen Trendler, Wildlife Trade & Trafficking Portfolio Director at the NSPCA. According to Trendler, “conservation of wildlife is best done by preserving wild animals in their natural habitat.”

In South Africa, the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) was passed in 1998 to allow for the “utilisation of genetically superior animals to improve the production and performance of animals in the interest of the country”. In short, the AIA is an agricultural policy that governs livestock breeding and has (until recently) pertained to traditionally ‘farmed animals’ such as cattle, goats, horses, sheep, pigs and other domesticated animals:

On 17 May 2019, an Amendment to the Animal Improvement Act, 62 of 1998, was issued by the then Department Of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. In this amendment, lion, cheetah, rhino and giraffe have been added to the list of ‘farmable animals’, along with almost 30 other wild animal species.


But what does this mean, and why is it important?

Earlier this year, the NSPCA revealed horrific footage from a captive breeding facility in the North West Province where hundreds of lions and other animals were being kept in various stages of disease and neglect.

It is highly likely that those lions were being kept in captivity for the lion bone trade to South-East Asia, which supplements the tiger bone trade for traditional medicine. Due to the fact that these lions are being bred merely for their bones, their welfare falls by the wayside.

Multiple animals were confiscated for treatment, but many had to be euthanased due to the severity of their suffering.

Click for National Geographic article

By adding wild species to the AIA, is the South African Government now promoting intensive, captive breeding of these animals for commercial purposes? For species such as lion and rhino, it would seem that this Amendment will play right into the hands of unscrupulous wildlife breeders, many of whom are involved in the controversial breeding of lion for the bone trade, and rhino for the horn trade. According to Dr Ross Harvey, the inclusion of these animals in the AIA is worrying as the Act does not govern how they should be slaughtered, or what kinds of health considerations need to be observed.

Domesticated animals such as cattle and horses were selected based on specific characteristics and their full domestication took place over many hundreds of years. Predators and other wild species, on the other hand, are not and have never been domesticated successfully as they retain certain inherent wild characteristics that make them a danger to humans.

“The ongoing domestication of our wildlife is very concerning. It has no conservation benefit and in many cases, is damaging to our biodiversity,” says Dr Kelly Marnewick, a lecturer in the Department of Nature Conservation at the Tshwane University of Technology.

So what about the legal side of things?

There does seem to be some confusion as the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), which legislates mostly on wild species and for biodiversity objectives, issued a statement in July 2019 declaring that the AIA Amendment “does not replace or supersede the provisions of conservation legislation” and that “animals listed under the AIA are still subject to the requirements of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (NEMBA) and provincial conservation legislation”.

This statement makes it sound as though all is well, and that the threatened species included in the AIA Amendment will be protected against exploitation. Under NEMBA, the Threatened or Protected Species (ToPS) Regulations requires that permits be issued for any “restricted activity” in relation to any listed threatened or protected species, which include rhino and lion. However, it appears the AIA Amendment conflicts with both NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations. According to NEMBA and the ToPS Regulations, “importing, exporting, possessing [and] breeding” of listed threatened species are considered to be restricted activities (NEMBA, 2004).

According to Don Pinnock of The Daily Maverick, NEMBA “has no provision for the welfare of individual animals” and “deals mainly with licencing of commercial use of listed or threatened species”. When the Department of Agriculture was contacted for comment about the Amendment, they advised that due to “changing farming systems in South Africa, game animals are included as these are already part of farm animal production systems in the country”. They also stated that no public participation process was needed for an amendment to an Act and that the change followed a request from ‘the industry’ in 2017.

Where to from here?

The Departments of Environment and Agriculture will be engaged to determine a way forward. Blood Lions and our partner organisations will be following these developments very closely.

If you would like to find out more, email or follow our social media pages for updates.

The NSPCA has huge animal welfare concerns for the animals exploited in the captive predator and canned hunting industry in South Africa. This industry is unregulated, uncontrolled and is responsible for untold cruelty. It is a tragedy that our wild animals are reduced to profit making machines. Coupled with this members of public are unwittingly encouraging and supporting this cruelty, so it is vital that the public are aware of the truth behind the industry so they can make informed decisions and hopefully choose not to support such an unethical industry.

Sr.Ainsley Hay, Manager, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit

Breeding magnificent wild creatures like lions in camps so that they can be slaughtered for ego and money is unconscionable and should be outlawed.  Lions have the right to live in the wild and to continue playing their unique role within the ecological communities of Africa.  The continued existence of the canned hunting industry is a moral outrage that diminishes us all.  This important film shines a light into the dark corners of this ugly business.

Cormac Cullinan, Cullinan & Associates Incorporated

Cruel, barbaric, macabre – all words used by Australian MPs about lion farming and the canned lion hunting industry in SA.  Our campaign was glad to be able to assist and participate in a full length documentary that aims to expose a brutal industry whose whole business model is routine, egregious cruelty to helpless animals – for fun.

Chris Mercer, Founder, CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)

Captive lions have long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape and their tragic story needed to be exposed before these practices negatively impacted on Brand South Africa. Congratulations to all involved in taking the time and making this happen.

Colin Bell, Tourism consultant and author of “Africa’s Finest”

“As a travel and conservation based organization, we find the “Blood Lions” documentary deeply disturbing. Despite being hard to watch, we urge people to get out there and see it. It is important to shed light on the dark and corrupt business of rearing lions for the purposes of hunting, in hopes of making a positive change. As we polled our membership, we found that individually each of our companies have chosen to stop booking all activities that contribute to this industry.”

The Safari Professionals – 30 Tour Operators based in the US and Canada

South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred, raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis. The canned hunting industry is unnatural, unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that, far from contributing to the future survival of the species, may, in fact, accelerate extinction in the wild, leaving behind a trail  littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims.

Will Travers OBE, President Born Free Foundation

The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, in providing support for the making of this Documentary, does so in the firm belief that it is important that the true facts behind captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa, is brought to the attention of a global audience in order to create awareness which in turn will lead to much needed change.

Les Ward MBE, Chairman, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust

This is a timely, courageous as well as a deeply disturbing documentary. It is at the same time, a voice for the wild and the voiceless … of saying “NO MORE!” to that terrible triad of financial opportunism, deceit and indifference to the non-human animal by those claiming to be conservationists.

Ian McCallum – Author, poet, psychiatrist and naturalist

With the constant pressure on wildlife, every effort must be made to keep our last vestiges of natural fauna and flora protected.    Canned hunting of any kind, along with the related consequences, must be condemned by humanity as not only a travesty of nature but also an utterly inhumane practise.   Taming lion cubs only to later hunt them is an utterly inhumane practice.   It is pseudo-hunting, a complete sham and does not even qualify as hunting on a sustainable use basis.   Wildlife conservation has to evolve into practices that are ethical, humanitarian and sustainable. This will not be achieved if there is not real and fair community involvement which has not been part of the hunting fraternity’s evolution.

Yvette Taylor, Executive Director, The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation

“Canned lion ‘hunting’ is nothing less than a bargain basement opportunity for foreign hunters to engage in one of South Africa’s most sordid practices. Hunting of captive bred lions entirely dependent on human fingerprints from cub to trophy is immoral, unethical and against all animal welfare concerns. The fact that it still continues as profitable commerce is a damning statement against all of us who have not properly engaged to snuff it out. Blood Lions is a good start to bring change.”

Dr Pieter Kat – Director: LionAid

Canned Lion