South Africa has announced its intent to end captive lion breeding, bone trade AND domestication of the species

FOUR PAWS position statement May 2021


The South African Government has announced it will phase out the breeding and keeping of captive lions for commercial purposes. This includes the use of captive lions that are bred, hunted, used in interactions, and, the sale and export of their bones (or derivatives). FOUR PAWS commends the statement made by the Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), Barbara Creecy,[1] and the release of the report from the High-Level Panel[2] that outlines this move. Following years of campaigning on this issue, FOUR PAWS hopes this statement and report signifies the end of a lifetime of suffering for thousands of lions.

The announcement signifies a first step to end an industry that has been out of control for decades, causing the suffering of approximately 12,000 captive lions[3],[4] across the country. The decision to end the export of lion bones has a knock-on effect on other big cat species, such as tigers, as this bone trade was stimulating markets in Asia, where all big cat bones and parts are in high demand. Although the announcement in South Africa and policy shift will not affect this demand for big cat parts, it is a strong statement that the country will no longer play a role in supplying such markets and disrupting global conservation efforts.

The decision was made following a High-Level Panel that was formed to review policies, legislation and practices related to the management of lion, and other iconic South African species such as elephants, rhino, and leopards. Several key issues arose from discussions surrounding the captive breeding of lions for commercial purposes, including poor welfare and zoonotic disease transmission. FOUR PAWS, along with many other organisations submitted documents to this Panel on the mismanagement of captive lions and we are optimistic following the DFFE’s decisions.

FOUR PAWS is confident that the South African Government, in consultation with numerous stakeholders will bring an end to this industry effectively and humanely. We will continue to offer support to the DFFE and to share our expertise and knowledge during the implementation phase of this decision, particularly with regards to the welfare of the lions.  

One of the most contentious areas that came from the Government’s plans is the potential euthanasia of captive lions. This industry has escalated out of control to such an extent that there are approximately 12,000 animals reside in 300 separate facilities. While this emphasizes the need for urgent intervention, FOUR PAWS and the Government have acknowledged that lifelong appropriate care for every individual lion cannot be guaranteed. We therefore recommend the following actions:

  • Lion owners can keep their animals under the conditions that they are sterilised and not used for breeding.
  • Owners must provide species-appropriate care in terms of enclosure size, dietary needs, veterinary care, behavioural needs and keep the animals free from suffering.
  • Owners should be encouraged to transform their facilities from captive breeding facilities to sanctuaries that offer the animals lifelong care. FOUR PAWS can offer support by inviting lion owners to LIONSROCK Big Cat Sanctuary where we can showcase what this entails.
  • Individual animals that have medical conditions that cause them to suffer and cannot be treated and animals for which no quality of life can be guaranteed, should be eligible for humane euthanasia by a qualified veterinarian.
  • Measures are put in place to ensure the responsible disposal of big cat carcasses following euthanasia. This includes that qualified veterinarians responsible for euthanasia of animals, work with relevant local authorities to implement and record appropriate carcass disposal, to ensure body parts and derivates are not traded

In addition, we remain mindful of the implications and repercussions of this announcement and what may happen in the implementation period. We urge the South African Government to take steps to ensure that a mass killing of the animals by owners attempting to make a profit or washing their hands of the issue is prevented.

In the coming weeks and months, FOUR PAWS will continue to keep our supporters updated on this issue. FOUR PAWS remains committed to big cat protection and ensuring animal welfare is a high priority in the implementation period of this decision, and we look forward to supporting the South African Government in doing so. FOUR PAWS also remains committed to ensuring other big cat species are included in this ban and that tiger farming also ends in South Africa.

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FOUR PAWS is the global animal welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, which reveals suffering, rescues animals in need and protects them. Founded in 1988 in Vienna by Heli Dungler and friends, the organisation advocates for a world where humans treat animals with respect, empathy and understanding. The sustainable campaigns and projects of FOUR PAWS focus on companion animals including stray dogs and cats, farm animals and wild animals – such as bears, big cats and orangutans – kept in inappropriate conditions as well as in disaster and conflict zones. With offices in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Kosovo, the Netherlands, Switzerland, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, the UK, the USA and Vietnam as well as sanctuaries for rescued animals in eleven countries, FOUR PAWS provides rapid help and long-term solutions. 

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