Tourists from around the world flock to South Africa to experience the beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. But many are duped by slick advertisements into participating in activities that are harmful to animals and wildlife conservation. One example is South Africa’s infamous lion breeding industry.

Shockingly, South Africa legalised the lion bone trade in 2017. There are about 200 facilities holding about 7 000 captive lions and other predators, most of which will be exploited for some sort of revenue stream.

These lions are bred in captivity on an industrial scale. In many instances, the cubs are taken away from their mothers when they are only a few days old. They are then bottle fed and hand reared before being offered to paying tourists at cub petting facilities.

Once these cubs are too big to handle, they will be offered to paying tourists at lion walking facilities. Soon, these animals are too big and dangerous to handle and control, and many are then sold to canned trophy hunters who want an easy kill. They are perfect candidates because hand reared lions are imprinted and have no fear of humans.

The lions that don’t make it to lion walking facilities or are not the kind of lions that hunters want for trophies such as females can end up being slaughtered for the lion bone trade. South Africa legally exports the skeletons of up to 800 lions per year to Asian countries, like China, where they are used in health tonics.

Industry Exposed

This conveyer belt of cruelty was publicly exposed in the award winning feature film, Blood Lions, which shone a bright light on this unethical industry and its false claims.

The conditions in which many of the animals are kept was highlighted, most of which do not even begin to meet standards for appropriate and humane care. Lions are held in cages or small enclosures and often lack necessary veterinary care. In 2016, a lion breeder with 250 lions was found to be starving his lions after he ran out of money.

Cubs are removed from their mothers at very young ages and well before they would be weaned naturally. Those that end up in the cub petting facilities are frequently and continuously handled by tourists, often roughly when they fight against being picked up and cuddled. Mothers are repeatedly bred.

Lion scientists have stated formally that there is no conservation value to breeding lions in captivity. Yet the lion breeding industry claims it is helping conservation by providing an alternative for hunters so they don’t kill wild lions. Wild lion hunts and canned lion hunts cater to completely different types of hunters. Canned lion hunts have opened up a whole new market in addition to wild lion hunts, instead of replacing them. The lion breeding industry also claims that it helps conservation because the hand reared cubs will be released into the wild. However, there are no replicable studies of this and lions bred in captivity are not suitable for reintroduction into the wild, according to scientists.

Tourists are often told that the cubs were abandoned or orphaned and needed to be rescued. However, the truth is that they are taken away from their mothers before they are weaned. In the wild, cubs will stay with their mothers for up to 18 months; forced removal is harmful to the cubs, who are deprived of their mothers’ attention and their learning experience, as well as to the mothers who are treated as breeding machines. There are many real wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa where animals are not bred and tourists are not allowed to come into contact with them.

Public Outcry

From the public outrage at the industry based on the film Blood Lions, an international campaign to end the lion breeding industry was born. In order to put a stop to this cruel practice, we need to prevent these breeders from extracting funds from cub petting, cub walking, canned lion hunting and the export of lion bones.

Tourists have a key role to play in ending this disgraceful industry. We urge visitors to stay away from cub petting and lion walking facilities. This includes those who volunteer also known as ‘voluntourism’. Please don’t pay to take care of cubs or other captive lions; the lion breeding industry is just taking advantage of you to the detriment of the animals. Check with your tour operator that they have signed the Born to Live Wild Pledge and only support those that have.

Support Ethical Tourism

Over the past year, large travel organisations such as African Travel & Tourism Association, Thomas Cook, Intrepid, Trip Advisor and Expedia, among others, have all stopped promoting and selling lion cub petting experiences. And more than 100 of the world’s leading safari and ecotourism operators signed the Born to Live Wild Pledge that commits them to not send travellers to lion cub petting or walking facilities while promoting wild lion tourism and giving support to the legitimate conservation community.

The campaign is working to distance the trophy hunting industry from canned lion hunts. Just this year, two prominent trophy hunting clubs banned their members from entering trophies from canned lion hunts into the clubs’ record books, and also banned canned lion hunt exhibitors at their trade shows.

Finally, the Blood Lions organisation is doing all it can to stop the international lion bone trade. Tourists can help by spreading the word to businesses with which they come into contact in South Africa that slaughtering lions for their bones and trading the bones internationally for tonics is bad for the country’s image.

South Africa has so many natural wonders to share with the world. Tourists are urged to support ethical tourism by visiting wild lions in their natural habitat and avoiding being a pawn to the lion breeding industry.

To find out more about the Blood Lions initiative or to get involved, visit www.bloodlions.org.

Back to Media

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