Conservation Value of Captive Bred Lions

In its 2015 Biodiversity Management Plan for the lion in South Africa, the then DEA recognised that “captive lions are bred exclusively to generate money and currently have limited conservation value.” 

In February 2016, the African Lion Working Group (ALWG) issued a statement that “captive-bred lion hunting, which is defined by ALWG as the sport hunting of lions that are captive bred and reared expressly for sport hunting and/or sport hunting of lions that occur in fenced enclosures and are not self-sustaining, does not provide any demonstrated positive benefit to wild lion conservation efforts and therefore cannot be claimed to be conservation”.

The statement concluded whilst more data were needed, the international lion bone trade that is currently being supplied by the South African captive-bred lion industry, may fuel an increased demand for wild lion bones elsewhere, thereby negatively impacting on wild lion populations. The ALWG firmly stated that the captive breeding of lions for sport hunting, hunting of captive-bred lion and the associated cub petting industry are not conservation tools.

Similarly, in November 2017, 25 of the world’s leading lion conservation and research organisations submitted a letter to the then US Secretary of the Interior, Mr Ryan Zinke, regarding the request made by the South African Predator’s Association (SAPA) to uplift the importation ban of captive bred lion trophies. The submission comprised of individuals with extensive experience, scientific knowledge and credibility in the field of lion biology, conservation and management.

The submission stated that captive lion breeding, an intensive type of land management, in no ways contributes to biodiversity conservation, or support claims of benefits for meso-carnivores and veld rehabilitation. The IUCN Red data List states that the most prolific threats to wild lions are a lack of safe and suitable space, and conflict with people. The captive breeding of lions does not address these threats and therefore is of no conservation value.  

Lindsey et al. (2012) recognise that there is not “sufficient data from which to draw firm conclusions about the relationships between the markets for wild and captive-bred lion hunting”. They conclude that “further research is urgently required into the issue of the trade of lion bones from South Africa to identify the potential risks and issues for lion conservation”. So far, the Scientific Authority has only commissioned research on the economics of the lion bone trade, but no lion conservation research.