Male lion behind rusted fence

One step closer to ending the commercial trade of big cats

FOUR PAWS commends the South African government and specifically the DFFE 


South Africa’s big cat industry is out of control. The country has the largest number of captive lions in the world with some estimates of approximately 12,000 animals. There is also an unknown number of tigers bred and traded for commercial purposes and an underlying illegal trade in big cat parts. South Africa is the world’s leading exporter of big cats and their parts.  

In 2018 the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Environment held a Colloquium on captive lion breeding for hunting, which resolved that “The Department of Environmental Affairs should as a matter of urgency initiate a policy and legislative review of Captive Breeding of Lions for hunting and Lion bone trade, with a view to ending this practice”.  

In 2024, the government Cabinet has approved the revised Policy Position on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhinoceros for implementation. 

Following this approval, the Ministerial Task Team also published their recommendations on what a phase out of the lion industry should entail and that all predators should be included in a phase and eventual industry closure.  

FOUR PAWS commends the South African government and specifically the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment for these announcements and reiterating the intention to close the captive lion industry. However, we are concerned that unless there is a timeline with time bound specific goals and a government published roadmap or implementation plan, this process may become laborious and drawn out, counteracting the justification towards an urgent need for action.  

FOUR PAWS, urges the South African, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to: 

  • Publish a government implementation plan, including time bound specific goals to follow up on Cabinet approved policy position to end the captive keeping of lions for commercial purposes and close captive lion facilities.
  • Include all big cat species in the implementation plan. Due to a global convergence in the legal commercial trade and illegal trade of big cats and their parts, the rationale for closing the lion industry applies to all big cat species.

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