The Blood Lions Story
Photos by: Solly LeviAuthor: Blood LionsIntroduction

Blood Lions is a non-profit organisation based in South Africa that aims to end the commercial captive breeding of lions and other big cats for tourism, “canned” hunting, and other exploitative activities.

The organisation was formed in response to the growing concern over the treatment of lions in captive breeding facilities, which often involves the premature removal of cubs from their mothers for the hand-rearing of cubs for tourist interactions, leading to the exploitation of this iconic species for the lion bone and other body parts and “canned” hunting industries.

Blood Lions conducts investigations, produced a documentary, raises awareness, and engages with policymakers, tourism operators, and the public to promote responsible and sustainable tourism practices prioritising animal welfare and conservation.

Dr Louise de Waal, director and campaign manager for Blood Lions, gave insight into this organisation and why what they do is so vital.

The inspiration behind the Blood Lions campaign was the Blood Lions documentary film, released in July 2015. The film highlighted the horrific truth behind the captive lion breeding industry in South Africa, where lions are bred for a life in captivity and ultimately end up being hunted for sport or slaughtered for their bones, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.

The Blood Lions documentary resulted from a two-year investigation by filmmakers, conservationists, and animal welfare activists. The film exposed the dark reality of lion breeding farms, where cubs are taken away from their mothers at a young age and hand-raised by humans, only to be used as tourist attractions for cub petting and lion walks. Once they outgrow their cute and cuddly phase, they are sold to hunting farms, where they are released into small enclosures and shot by wealthy trophy hunters.
The filmmakers behind Blood Lions were determined to use their documentary as a tool to raise global awareness of the exploitation of lions used for tourism activities, canned hunting, and the bone trade. The film received widespread critical acclaim and was screened at film festivals worldwide, sparking a global outcry against the captive lion breeding industry.

The Blood Lions campaign was subsequently launched to build on the momentum generated by the Blood Lions film and to galvanise support for protecting lions and other big cats. The campaign exposes the cruel and unethical practices of the captive lion breeding industry and promotes responsible and sustainable tourism practices that benefit local communities and wildlife conservation efforts.
Strategies and Key Priorities
Blood Lions' strategic plan focuses on two key priorities:

1. Raising public awareness: The organisation aims to raise public awareness regarding the issues associated with the captive breeding, keeping, hunting, and trade of lions and other predators. Blood Lions uses a range of mechanisms to accomplish this goal, including social media platforms, media statements, presentations, and film screenings. The organisation's social media platforms are particularly effective in reaching a global audience and educating them about the captive predator industry. They also collaborate with other organisations and individuals who share its vision to raise awareness about the issue and encourage people to act.

Blood Lions' efforts to raise public awareness are targeted explicitly towards addressing voluntourism, interactive tourist activities such as cub petting and walking with lions, and the typical lifecycle of captive lions that eventually end up in “canned” hunts and lion bone trade. They aim to reduce the demand for such activities by educating the public about these issues and promoting responsible and sustainable tourism practices with the slogan “Keep it Wild”.

2. Engagement with government: Blood Lions engages with government officials and policymakers to assist in the phasing out and closure of the captive predator industry. The organisation believes that government support is essential for achieving its long-term goal of ending the exploitation of captive lions and other predators. They work with government agencies and officials to promote legislation and policy reform that protect lions and other predators and to encourage the closure of captive breeding facilities and hunting farms.

To accomplish these priorities, Blood Lions employs various mechanisms such as direct engagement with stakeholders, public outreach, education and advocacy, media and social media campaigns, lobbying, and litigation. By utilising these mechanisms, Blood Lions hopes to create a groundswell of support for its cause, bringing about policy change and ending the exploitation of lions and other predators.
The Vital Quest

The commercial captive breeding and keeping of lions and other predators has become a profitable industry, offering tourists a range of activities that often involve animal exploitation and do not contribute to true conservation efforts. The organisation believes this industry is cruel, unethical, and not a sustainable animal conservation model.

Ultimately, Blood Lions' mission is to promote responsible and sustainable tourism practices that benefit local communities and wildlife conservation efforts in the wild, while ending the exploitation of lions and other predators in South Africa. Achieving this goal will require collaboration and cooperation from stakeholders, including government officials, conservationists, and the general public.

Defining and quantifying impact against the mission

Blood Lions have implemented several measures to define and quantify their impact to ensure progress. These measures help evaluate effectiveness and adjust strategies to achieve goals.

One of the key measures used to assess impact is monitoring social media reach and engagement. This includes tracking followers, likes, comments, and shares across various social media platforms. Analysing these metrics makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of their target audience reach and engage with them in their mission.

Website activity, including page views, time on site, and bounce rates, is closely monitored which helps to understand how their website performs as a communication and advocacy tool, and whether their message resonates with their audience.

Media coverage is another important measure used to assess impact. News articles, interviews, and other media coverage are monitored to determine how much their message is being disseminated to the public and whether they are gaining traction in the media.

In addition to these measures, they stay up to date on the latest developments within the government to monitor the process of phasing out the captive predator industry. This helps to understand how advocacy efforts impact policy and whether they are progressing towards their mission.

Conducting peer-reviewed research enables them to clearly define and understand the nature and extent of the industry, which allows them to communicate factual findings to both the public and government and advocate for change based on objective evidence.

Using these measures ensures meaningful progress towards the goal of ending the captive predator industry.

Fostering collective action for meaningful progress

Blood Lions works to create a positive impact through cultivating a culture of collaboration to drive positive change.

To achieve this, they use various strategies such as public engagement through social media campaigns, conducting peer-reviewed research, and engaging with the government to bring about policy changes. They also make use of in-person and virtual presentations and screenings of the Blood Lions film. Social media and peer-reviewed research are used to communicate with audiences and increase reach.

Education and awareness are both crucial to the campaign. The organisation has a Youth for Lions campaign to mobilise young people to become a Youth Ambassador. The program involves training young individuals to become advocates for the cause and equipping them with the necessary tools to make a difference in their communities.

Blood Lions hopes to maximise their impact and create a ripple effect that spreads beyond its immediate influence.
Partners and Collaborators

Through the Born to Live Wild initiative, several tourism partners have pledged to engage only in ethical wildlife activities that don’t involve exploiting captive wild animals.

These partners play a crucial role in promoting responsible tourism practices and ensuring that travellers are not unknowingly supporting unethical wildlife activities. By aligning with the Born to Live Wild initiative, they commit to promoting sustainable tourism practices that prioritise animal welfare and conservation.

The partnership between Blood Lions and these tourism partners demonstrates the importance of collaboration and collective action in addressing the issue of captive wildlife exploitation. They are working towards a more ethical and sustainable future for wildlife tourism through their joint efforts.

More information about their partners can be found on the Blood Lions' official site:

Overcoming Obstacles

The main obstacles or challenges include the continuing public demand for exploitative activities (such as cub petting, walking with predators and other physical interactions) in which tourists engage in unethical activities for recreation, including voluntourism opportunities. Secondly, government engagement and political change could be faster. Necessarily, the government requires to engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including thosein the captive lion industry, and resistance to phasing out or closure of the industry is strong.


Although careful annual planning allows the organisation to engage in campaign activities according to available budgets, additional funding is always welcome.

Funds are garnered from two primary sources: public donations and organisational funding. These funds are crucial for Blood Lions to sustain their operations and achieve their mission. The expenses these funds cover are diverse and include salaries, office rent, and travel costs, which are all essential to keeping the organisation functioning.

Apart from covering operating expenses, the funds also allow Blood Lions to continue conducting research and campaigning activities which are crucial to their mission, as they help them gather information, advocate for legislative changes and raise awareness about the negative impacts of captive lion breeding.

Successful Initiatives

The #800Lions campaign was launched in 2020 for World Lion Day, and despite worldwide lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign was an enormous success. The aim was to collect 800 pieces of lion art to represent the legal CITES export quota of 800 lion skeletons in 2018 and 2019, which were then delivered to Minister Barbara Creecy at the G20 summit in a call to keep the lion bone quota at zero. Over 1300 pieces of art were received from a diverse group of people worldwide who all contributed to the campaign's success.

Areas of opportunity

Areas of opportunity (and sometimes challenges simultaneously) include constantly seeking more creative and effective means of communicating with larger national and international audiences. Dr de Waal stated, "At the moment, we are in the process of re-launching the Blood Lions film in several languages, which will enable us to extend our reach even further. Reaching wider audiences is something that we strive to achieve and continuously look for ways to improve".

Blood Lions Community Impact

“The impact may be seen in those who choose to engage in ethical wildlife activities instead of supporting captive facilities and exploitative activities involving lions and other predators. The aim is to continuously reduce public demand for captive facilities and promote wild and ethical experiences. Since the launch of the Blood Lions film, a considerable change in attitude on government level has been seen.”

In 2015, the government tried to halt the release of the Blood Lions film. Now, in a significant development for the Blood Lions organisation, Minister Barbara Creecy of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment has selected one of their directors to serve on the Ministerial Task Team (MTT). The MTT's primary responsibility is pinpointing and suggesting feasible options and strategies for players in the captive lion industry to exit on a voluntarily basis. This is a crucial milestone that exemplifies the strides made by the Blood Lions campaign and the competence of their team.

Comparing Programs and Collaborating with Peers in the Same Field.

Dr de Waal commented, "How successful Blood Lions is compared to other organisations in our field is a difficult one to answer, particularly since Blood Lions is solely focused on the captive predator industry in South Africa. For many organisations, this is only one campaign of many. However, we work with various NGOs and try to break through the existing silos. For example, Blood Lions was instrumental in establishing the Lion Coalition which brings together organisations that all work towards the closure of the industry. We continue to work closely with other organisations who similarly address captive animal welfare, wildlife trade, and canned hunting issues."

SA is on course to achieve the SDGs

The SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are a set of 17 global goals established by the United Nations in 2015 to be achieved by 2030. These goals aim to tackle various social, economic, and environmental challenges facing the world today, such as poverty, hunger, climate change, and inequality.

According to Dr de Waal, establishing the Ministerial Task Team is a positive step in addressing the issue of the captive predator industry and working towards phasing it out. "Government processes do tend to work slowly, but with one of our directors being a part of that process, it is assuring to know that engagement is ongoing, and options are being considered".

It is important to note that achieving the SDGs is a complex and multifaceted process that requires the collaboration of various stakeholders, including government, civil society, and the private sector. While progress is being made in some areas, many challenges remain in South Africa and worldwide.

South Africans can play a significant role by engaging in ethical wildlife activities that contribute to genuine conservation efforts, avoiding interactive facilities and captive facilities that breed and trade their wildlife, and making their voices heard about the exploitation of captive wildlife, from interactions and “canned” hunting to the lion bone trade.

Get in Touch

Should you wish to know more or want to contribute to their cause, their websites for Blood Lions and Youth For Lions and social media platforms are excellent ways to get to know the organisation better.

Blood Lions Facebook
Blood Lions Instagram
• Blood Lions Twitter
Youth For Lions Facebook
Youth For Lions Instagram
• Youth For Lions Twitter

The Future
Through their work, Blood Lions hopes to put an end to the exploitation of lions and other big cats in captivity and promote ethical and responsible tourism practices that contribute to the conservation of these magnificent animals.

As we reflect on the majesty of the lion, we can't help but be inspired by their strength and resilience. The lion symbolises courage and determination; when we stand together with these magnificent creatures, we can achieve great things. By protecting their habitats, conserving their populations, and ensuring their welfare, we can ensure a better future for the lions and us.
Together, we can make a difference and ensure that the lion remains a symbol of hope and inspiration for generations to come.
"Until the Lion learns to hunt, the story will always glorify the hunter" - African proverb.