High-Level Panel Recommends South Africa End Captive Breeding and Hunting of Lions

A High-Level Panel created to review South Africa’s policies, legislation and practices regarding elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros has recommended an end to the practice of captive breeding and hunting of lions. The recommendation was announced by South African Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Barbara Creecy on May 2, 2021.

Creecy established the High-Level Panel (HLP) in October 2019 after a Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding in 2018 reported that the captive lion breeding industry did not contribute to the conservation of lions or to conservation in general and that it was damaging South Africa’s conservation and tourism reputation. Creecy subsequently created a 25-member panel comprised of individuals from a range of backgrounds and areas of expertise to “get a holistic view of the pertinent issues” on lions and other highlighted species. The HLP conducted stakeholder consultations with all interested parties throughout 2020 despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic and issued a report in December 2020, which was presented to the Cabinet and approved for release and implementation.

The 600-page report contains 18 goals and 60 recommendations. Members of the HLP were in consensus on all but two of the recommendations, namely those on captive lion and rhino breeding. The Minister adopted the recommendation of the majority on both issues. Regarding lions, the majority of the panel recommended ending the practice of captive breeding and all uses and trade in those animals.

The panel concluded that the captive lion industry poses risks to the sustainability of wild lion conservation resulting from the negative impact on ecotourism, which funds lion conservation, and conservation more broadly, plus the negative impact on the authentic wild hunting industry and the risk that trade in lion parts poses to stimulating poaching and the illegal trade. The panel recommends that South Africa not breed or keep lions in captivity or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.

“I have requested the department to action this accordingly and ensure that the necessary consultation for implementation is conducted,” says Creecy in an official statement.

The minister went on to stress that the recommendations are not against the hunting industry. “Preventing the hunting of captive lions is in the interests of the authentic wild hunting industry and will boost the hunting economy and our international reputation and the jobs that this creates,” she says.

In addition to the hunting of lions bred in captivity, the panel recommended ending lion cub petting attractions and walking-with-lion attractions that socialize the animals to humans before they are returned as adults to facilities for the bone trade and other commercial uses, including hunting.

In its report, the HLP also noted that various hunting organizations, including Safari Club International (SCI), are opposed to the captive breeding and hunting of lions. The report specifically recognized that SCI had publicly announced it would not allow operators to advertise or market captive-bred lions at its annual convention and that it would not accept captive-bred lion entries for its record book.

Although the HLP’s recommendations have been accepted by the Cabinet of the South African Government, captive breeding and hunting of lions will not cease immediately. The Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment is creating a program of stakeholder feedback sessions and will provide a public commentary period. A Policy Position is being developed as well as a White Paper on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use for use in consultation. Furthermore, legislative changes may be required at the parliamentary level to outlaw the practice due to current legislation. It is also worth noting that past efforts by the government to more tightly control the captive bred lion industry have been met with legal challenges, and that is likely to occur again. It will probably be some time before the panel’s recommendation to end this practice materializes.

The captive bred lion industry first came to the attention of the world in 1997 in a British television news documentary and has since remained a controversial issue, enduring numerous attempts to shut it down or marginalize it. In the meantime, USFWS continues to deny import permits for any captive bred lion trophies taken by US hunters.