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  • Writer's pictureDr.Eleonore Op de Beeck

Lion cubs cuddling: A fake industry

Tourism plays a massive role in South Africa's economy. In 2017, around 10.29 million foreign tourists visited South Africa and in 2016, tourism accounted for about 2.9% of the economies income and employed an average of 686.586 people, which over performed key industries in job creation from 2012 to 2016.

For attracting tourists, a positive external image of South Africa is essential where the stunning wildlife roaming freely in it's natural habitat is the key ingredient for tourists to come visit this amazing country. But over the last few years, revelations about the truth and scale of the canned hunting and captive lion breeding industry in South Africa and it's direct links with lion bone industry for it's "suposively" Chinese medicine benefits, have seriously damaged this image.

The farming of African lions (Panthera Leo) for commercial trade emerged in the early 90's, partly as a "conservation measure" to reduce the decline in wild lion numbers as they are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red list of threatened species with little to none real truth about this while meeting the increasing demand of wildlife trade which would be the real cause for this action to take place.

The main threads to wild lions are prey depletion, loss and fragmentation of suitable habitats, human-wildlife conflict, illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade and trophy hunting.

Lion farming was seen as a way to mitigate these threads but has since drawn widespread criticism as lions are bred purely for the captive "canned" hunting industry in South Africa, where captive-bred lions are released into a confined space from which they cannot escape to be killed for sport, for tradicional medicine trade, where lions are killed for their bones, claws, skeletons, skulls, etc that are used in a variety of "treatments ", the trophy trade where lion parts are considered luxury goods, the tourism industry, where lions, especially cubs, are exploited in petting zoos and volunteerism attractions where volunteers pay large sums of money thinking they are contributing to lion conservation when in fact they are supporting this rather obscure business of lion canned hunting and trade without even knowing it.

Recent studies highlighting the negative impacts that the commercial captive trade lion industry has on the conservation of wild lions, habitats, ecotourism, welfare of captive lions, public health and reputation of South Africa as a leader in conservation and ecotourism for which all contributed to the plans made in May 2021, by the South African Department of forestry, fisheries and environment (DFFE) announcing the end of captive breeding of lions, keeping lions in activity, and the sue of captive lions, their parts and derivatives for commercial use but aslo taking unto account the illegal trade of other valuable and some endangered species like rhinos, elephants and leopards.

There are also concerns that the commercial breeding of lions for traditional medicine trade may be stimulating demand and exacerbating the illicit trade of tigers and other big cats.

And of course, the negative impact that this industry has on the conservation of wild lions (inbreeding and crossbreeding/genetic manipulation reducing genetic variability and creating birth defects and infertility ), habitats, ecotourism, welfare of captive lions, public health and reputation of south Africa as a leader in conservation and ecotourism.

There is still much more to learn about this illegal trade and decisions are still being made but what we can do as "tourists" will greatly impact how they approach things as reducing the demand will help mitigate the effect of this industry.

Things to consider when going to South Africa is to NOT participate in any illegal hunting, nor "walking with lions/cheetahs and other big cats" and specially NOT participating in lion cub petting zoos or paying to volunteer at so called "rescue centres" where they have lion cubs, which have no conservation purposes whatsoever.

These lion cubs are taken soon after birth from their mothers so that mothers can become fertile again and reproduce, they are used as "breeding" machines while the cubs are a very attractive source of income as volunteers and tourists love the idea of cuddling and bottle feeding these little cute babies.

Once they reach a medium adult age, they are then used to "walk" with tourist, sometimes having to be sedated as even though, they are bred in captivity, they are still unpredictable and therefore are sedated to avoid any issues with tourists and then finally, when they are older they are used in the canned industry , where hunter tourist pay large sums of money to kill a lion in a enclosed are where they can't escape becoming easy target for these "tourist hunters", then, their part are used as luxury and trophies or their skeletons used for tradicional Chinese medicine with no evidence based medicinal properties whatsoever.

To learn more about this devastating industry and to learn how you can help and contribute for this to stop, I have provided you with some links to read more about:


Eleonore xx

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