The Captive Lion IndustryA Sustainability Scam? Photo Credit: Solly LeviIan MichlerThis article first appeared in Tourism Update. It appears here in a shortened and updated version
The notion of ‘sustainability’ has become one of the most overused and consequently meaningless phrases within conservation and wildlife management circles. It forms the basis of most actions by those that manage responsibly, but it is also manipulated by the abusers of habitat and wildlife in an attempt to justify their actions.
It’s hardly surprising then that some within the predator breeding and canned or captive lion hunting industry as well as those offering interactive tourism activities also invoke the term as a way of trying to sanitize what they do.
But how sustainable will these industries be when the ‘wildness’ of the predators and consequently the thrill of the products or activities offered has gone?
This entire industry is based on selling the notion that whatever it is buyers will be doing with lions; trading, petting, walking, viewing, filming, de-boning or shooting them, the supplied creature or its body parts will be wild. Reinforcing this ‘wildness’, and the thrill that comes with the interaction or use is the central tenet for the marketers. It’s cunning, and to enhance the yarn, the fabrications often come with tales of how dangerous the animals are.

However, in the process of supplying these various markets, operators are breeding and keeping lions under intensive agricultural-type conditions. Almost every aspect of the ecological or natural world has been removed. In other words, this is human selection over natural selection, and after a few generations of intensive breeding, they are already producing tame and docile animals, the first steps to complete domestication. Much like a pyramid scheme, the ‘wild’ and ‘thrill’ capital is fast running out, which leaves the operators to sell hype and a lie.
Photo Credit: Solly LeviOnce domesticated, and much like domestic cats and dogs, they will inevitably be bred in various shapes and sizes. Will the canned hunters still be prepared to shoot an animal they know is no longer a wild lion? Likewise, will visitors that pay to pet a lion cub still be prepared to do so knowing it’s now just a docile and weirdly shaped pussy cat?

Such is the short-sightedness and greed of those involved they seem not to care that the industry pushes this sad paradox, one that in the end will pull the rug from under their very own feet. We know there is no market in petting house cats and dogs or shooting domestic cattle and sheep.
The domestication process of what is arguably Africa’s most iconic species, and then brazenly attempting to claim conservation credentials, is the most shocking and damning aspect to these industries. Farming lions to be petted, traded or killed cannot under any reasonable definition be equated to or classified as conservation, and neither should those involved be able to justify their actions under the banner of sustainability. And to accept either of the above would be to defraud our conservation and tourism record as well as all those who are currently doing such vital and legitimate conservation work.
Fortunately, Barbara Creecy, the current Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs of South Africa agrees. In 2019, Creecy appointed a panel of experts to review the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of lion, elephant, leopard and rhinoceros. A principal finding at the end of this exhaustive process was that the captive lion breeding industry should be closed down - it had no conservation merit, and its activities had become a stain on the country’s record. The Minister needs to be given full support in her ongoing efforts to end these practices.

Ian Michler is a Director of Blood Lions and a Founding Partner of Invent Africa Safaris.
Watch the WORLD LION DAY video here