The captive lion breeding industry and substitute lion bone trade has been legitimised through an interpretation of Section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), referred to as the aggregative approach.
Prof David Bilchitz interrogates what constitutes ‘sustainable use’ as envisaged and intended in Section 24 through the integrative approach, which adopts the attitude of respect for the individuals that make up a species, an ecosystem or the components of biodiversity. This approach received approval from the Constitutional Court, which agreed that animal welfare and conservation are intertwined concepts. In other words, the protection of animal welfare is part of the environmental right in Section 24 of the Constitution.
The captive lion breeding industry is (in theory) currently legal, although the conditions in which many of these animals are kept, are arguably unlawful in terms of existing animal protection legislation, such as the Animals Protection Act.
However, the fact that this industry is currently legal, does not make it ethically, morally or socially acceptable. Both nationally and internationally, the industry is considered unethical even by prestigious international hunting organisations and pro-sustainable use countries.
In 2016, the IUCN World Conservation Congress issued a Motion (No. 009) urging the Government of South Africa to “terminate the practice of breeding lions in captivity for the purpose of ‘canned shooting’ through a structured, time-bound process” and to “restrict captive breeding of lions to registered zoos or registered facilities whose documented mandate is as a recognised, registered conservation project.”
Even though many suggest that the captive lion industry plays a positive supporting role for lion conservation and acts as a buffer against over-exploitation of wild lions, this premise is based solely on comments made by players with a vested interest in the captive lion industry and has no supporting scientific evidence.