Bringing an End to South Africa’s Captive Predator Industry: An Interview with the Blood Lions Team

South Africa’s captive lion industry is massive and exploitative, and mercilessly turns lions into profit in a number of ways.  Almost anyone can open a lion breeding farm, and there are no requirements in regards to animal husbandry or welfare knowledge. Borrowing from the tactics of the meat industry’s factory farms, lionesses are subjected to constant pregnancy, with their babies often taken away after mere days, and the animals are housed in small, overcrowded spaces. These captively-bred big cats are then monetized in various ways: hunters pay to kill them and bring their trophies back home; tourists pay for “lion experiences” where they pet, walk with, or take selfies with the lions; and now their bones are also ending up in China, where they are labelled as tiger bones and sold as a Chinese medicine ingredient.

The award-winning 2015 documentary Blood Lions offered an unflinching and thorough look at this industry. It remains one of the most informative overviews of this issue, and along with the larger Blood Lion campaign of which it is a part, it has significantly increased awareness of this cruel and secretive industry. In an interview with the Blood Lions team, we discussed the issue beyond the film.

Dylan Forest: This is a really powerful film, and was very well received when it was released in 2015. The Blood Lions campaign has gone on since then. What have you been working on regarding the captive lion issue since the film’s release? What has changed in the 4 years since then?

Blood Lions team: The Blood Lions campaign was launched to create global awareness around the captive predator breeding, canned hunting and lion bone trade industries, as well as related exploitative wildlife interactive tourism practices. The campaign is anchored by the Blood Lions® film, a strong and active digital media platform, and various specific campaigns with key international partners. The campaign encourages viewers of the film, visitors to Africa and followers on social media to make responsible choices about visiting or supporting wildlife interactive tourism facilities and activities. Through awareness and by reducing demand for exploitative products, the campaign aims to bring an end to the exploitation of captive-bred wild animals.

Blood Lions has worked extensively with tourism, conservation, welfare and legal groups and has made great strides in our efforts to raise global awareness around the captive lion breeding and ‘canned’ (captive) hunting industries, as well as associated tourism activities. The Blood Lions ‘Born to Live Wild’ Tourism Campaign and Pledge has been signed by over 170 tourism operators around the world, representing close to 3,000 member organisations, who all have aligned themselves with the Blood Lions goal.

The Blood Lions® film and campaign has received over 53.6 million South African rand worth of pro bono media coverage in 4 years (approximately 3.8 million United States dollars) and the Blood Lions Facebook page reached over 3.3 million people in 2018. In addition, it has been estimated that canned lion hunting has decreased by over 50% since the film was released in 2015, which is considered a great success.

For more information on these achievements, please visit the Blood Lions campaign milestones webpage.


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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