‘Blood Lions’ no more as South Africa to stop captive breeding of big cats for trophy hunting, traditional medicine

South African Environment Minister Barbara Creecy announces decision; owners of captive farms will have two years to close before ban comes into effect

South Africa will end the captive breeding of lions for a variety of reasons including trophy hunting and usage of bones as substitute for tigers in traditional Chinese medicine, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy announced in a press conference in Cape Town on April 3, 2024, according to news agency AFP.

Owners of farms where lions are bred for such purposes have two years “to voluntarily withdraw from the sector and change their business model before the ban begins”, according to AFP.

“South Africa is a country, with diverse cultures, remarkable geological wealth, and exceptional biodiversity, much of which is unique, and with high levels of endemism. With this rich endowment comes the responsibility and challenge of ensuring our species and ecosystems are conserved and used sustainably for the benefit of all South Africans and future generations,” minister Creecy said in a statement posted on the government’s website.

The statement added that Section 24 of the South African Constitution “requires reasonable legislative and other measures be put in place to ensure that the environment is protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, including through promoting conservation and securing ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources”.

The government had announced its intention to ban the lucrative industry in 2021. A  Ministerial Task Team (MTT) was appointed in December 2022, following a recommendation by the High Level Panel on matters relating to the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.

“The panel recommended the closure of the captive breeding sector, including the keeping of lions in captivity, or the use of captive lions or their derivatives commercially,” the minister’s statement added.

Read Lion farming in South Africa: fresh evidence adds weight to fears of link with illegal b

The MTT recommended the development and implementation of a voluntary exit strategy and pathways from the captive lion industry for stakeholders who wish to pursue this option.

“This exit strategy should consider all possible options, and prevailing issued within the captive lion industry,” according to the statement.

The MTT also suggested that the South African government acquire and incinerate “lion bone stockpiles contingent upon sterilisation of lions and compliance with the voluntary exit principles”.

Also, captive lion breeding should be prohibited “in the medium term to safeguard benefits of voluntary exit”.

“I am pleased to announce that Cabinet has endorsed the recommendations of the Task Team,” stated minister Creecy.

Curtains down

The decision means that it is curtains down for an industry that has been at the heart of a raging debate in South Africa.

Critics have pointed out that there are more captive lions — Between 8,000 and 12,000 on 350 farms across South Africa — than wild lions, which number 3,500.

The World Wildlife Fund notes that while lions are not currently endangered in Africa, three-quarters of their populations are in decline.

Among main threats to lions in Africa are human-wildlife conflict and natural prey decline, as well as habitat loss, climate change and wildlife trade, according to WWF.

There are around 23,000 African lions left in the wild, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List classifying them as ‘vulnerable’.

An article in The Conversation had noted that captive bred lions are used in “interactive cub “petting” tourism, “canned” trophy hunting (where the lions are hunted in small enclosures with no chance of escape), live exports, and the supply of body parts for use in traditional medicine”.

The 2015 award-winning documentary Blood Lions: Bred for the bullet, highlighted the plight of captive-bred lions in South Africa.

Louise de Waal, director and campaign manager, of the Blood Lions Campaign, was quoted on its official Facebook page, as saying that while the developments of April 3 were important, implementation was key:

The release of the MTT report and the publication of the Policy Position Paper are important steps towards the closure of the captive lion industry. However, both documents urgently need to be implemented with actual timelines for a staged approach to put an end to these unethical and cruel practices. With the upcoming elections, we are hugely concerned that a change in Minister will impede these processes, so we need to continue to put pressure on the DFFE to follow through on their promise to stop the domestication and exploitation of our iconic species.

De Waal was also part of the MTT.

Creecy’s statement added that the MTT report “should be understood in the broader policy context of the White Paper on Conservation and Sustainable use and the Policy Position on the conservation and sustainable use of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros that was approved last week by Cabinet for implementation”.

“The strategic impact of this policy position is that it will provide policy certainty for specific elements of the conservation and sustainable use of these five species, and, furthermore, provide a basis to review legislation where applicable and appropriate,” it added.

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