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The big cat scam

FOUR PAWS fights to stop the captive breeding and keeping of lions and other big cats for commercial purposes in South Africa.

South Africa has more than 300 captive wildlife facilities that breed and keep an estimated 10,000-12,000 lions, cheetahs, leopards, caracals, tigers and even ligers (crossbreed between a lion and tiger). The captive lion population in South Africa for example is three times the size of the country’s wild lion population – approximately 9,000 lions in captivity vs 3,000 in the wild.

Big Cat Scam Lifecycle

These big cats are bred in captivity, often raised by humans, and kept under appalling welfare conditions for commercial exploitation. Inbreeding is common at these intensive breeding farms, which can cause health issues and physical deformities.

Lion, cheetah and tiger cubs are ripped away from their mothers to be hand-reared by paying volunteers. Those same cubs are used in petting enclosures, where the paying public can interact and use the cubs as photo props.

The cub petting Scam

The temptation to cuddle or pet a lion cub might be inevitable, but it truly is just a big scam. Here’s how you might be contributing to it! 

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Adolescent cats too big and dangerous to be petted are used for walking with predator activities and adult cheetahs are used as so-called ambassador species.

The walking scam

Are we actually doing more harm than good with these once in a lifetime photo opportunities? Walk with them now, but they’ll be killed later! 

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Many young people mostly from Europe and North America want to make a difference and are willing to pay handsomely to spend time volunteering in Africa. Many captive wildlife facilities take advantage of this willingness to give back by offering volunteers the opportunity to be surrogate mothers for their “orphaned” cubs.

Paying volunteers are seriously ripped off, as they truly believe to be contributing to the conservation of lions through reintroduction of these “orphans” back into the wild. Surely, if these facilities would be releasing lions back into the wild, this would be a huge PR opportunity. So, why do we never read about this? Simply because it isn’t true!

The Voluntourism Scam

International volunteers are often ill-informed and unaware that these cute cubs that they bottle feed and bath are not orphaned and will never be returned to the wild. 

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Those animals that have no longer an economic value in tourism related activities, go back to holding facilities, where they are kept until they reach maturity and are ready for the next stage.

These habituated and captive bred adult lions, tigers and ligers are then released in small fenced off bomas, where they have no chance to escape, and offered in canned hunts to trophy hunters.

The canned hunting scam

From the age of about four years, captive bred lions and tigers are offered as trophies to hunters.

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Many others are kept for one purpose only - their skeletons. 

The South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) sets a legal annual quota for lion skeletons for the export to Southeast Asia. Here, their bones are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, fortified “tiger” wine or carved into jewellery. In 2018 and 2019 the quota was set for the export of 800 lion skeletons.  The lion bone trade has also created the need for lion slaughterhouses that are now springing up around the country. In these slaughterhouses lions are kept in cramped cages, unable to stand up let alone turn around, and often without access to adequate food and water. They are kept waiting sometimes for days for their fate - to be killed in the most inhumane way, skinned and dissected, and sent to Southeast Asia.


How an unregulated and unchecked industry has been allowed to explode.

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In the breeding and keeping of lions for the lion bone trade there is no incentive to keep lions healthy, when all that will be used are the bones. In an attempt to maximise profits, welfare is not a priority for many lion facilities and the lack of adequate basic animal welfare conditions, such as sufficient water, food, shelter and medical care, is inevitable, leading to malnourished and diseased lions.

South Africa has no national norms and standards for the breeding and keeping of predators in captivity to address animal welfare and/or health concerns, an issue that straddles the mandates of Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) and Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform (DARDLR).Existing legislation, such as the Animal Protection Act of 1962 and the Performing Animals Protection Act, are outdated and were never intended to deal with the welfare of wild animals held in captivity.

Welfare concerns

Serious welfare concerns persist in the captive breeding and keeping of indigenous and exotic predators for commercial exploitation, particularly with the increasing profit-driven commodification of lion products.

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FOUR PAWS wants to raise awareness around the animal welfare issues of the unethical captive big cat industry in South Africa.

FOUR PAWS  also calls on the South African government to set a zero lion bone export quota and to ban the breeding of lions, cheetahs, leopards, caracals, tigers and ligers for commercial exploitation.



Over 9,000 lions are held in captivity in more than 300 breeding farms across South Africa.

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