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South Africa’s lion farming cruel, linked to international criminals: World Animal Protection

While the skins, paws and skulls are handed over to the canned hunters as prized trophies, the skeletons are left to dry in the sun, packaged and sold to Asian buyers.

• August 14, 2023
World Animal Protection and Lions
World Animal Protection and Lions

The World Animal Protection has disclosed the harsh and cruel method of South Africa’s lion farming which has been linked to the increase in the illegal trading of lion bones to international criminals.

A report released Monday by the rights group urged the South African government to uphold its 2021 decision to cease the cruel commercial captive lion industry’s operation to ensure wildlife heritage and fish out illegal trade.

The 2021 decision noted South Africa’s intention to halt the domestication and exploitation of lions immediately and ultimately close all captive lion facilities in South Africa. However, the government backtracked its decision in late 2022, instructing a ministerial task team to develop and implement a voluntary exit strategy and pathways for captive lion facilities.

The inability of the South African government to stand by its decision has enabled some farms to disguise themselves as legitimate captive lion breeding and ‘canned’ trophy hunting businesses but are supplying the illegal international big cat bone trade facilitated by organised crime gangs. 

While the skins, paws and skulls are handed over to the canned hunters as prized trophies, the skeletons are left to dry in the sun, packaged and sold to “Asian buyers who regularly visit” the off-grid breeding farms.

Neil D’Cruze, the rights group’s global head of wildlife research, stated, “Even as experienced researchers, we were deeply disturbed by the cruel practices taking place. It is sickening to see these majestic mammals reduced to mere commodities kept in merciless conditions.”

Mr D’Cruze added, “This new intelligence gathered by brave sources confirms what was previously suspected – these well-established legal operations are plugged secretly into unethical practices and an illicit international trade network.”

He explained that a voluntary “phase out of the industry alone” would not be enough to halt the commercial exploitation of captive lions in South Africa. 

“We now know some off-grid lion farms go to great lengths to avoid detection. Facilities use various tactics like security cameras, patrols and messaging apps to avoid detection during inspections to conceal illegal activities,” said Mr D’Cruze.

Also, Louise de Waal, the director and campaign manager of Blood Lions, said, “We urge the South African government to make good on their 2021 decision and bring a mandatory time-bound end to the commercial captive lion industry, which will make detecting and preventing the illegal trade easier at the same time. Only then our reputation as a leader in conservation be restored, and the welfare of the country’s captive lions and other big cats ensured.” 

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