The captive lion industry is directly linked to tourism with around 45% of the facilities generating some income from tourism.
In March 2017, Dr Paul Funston (Senior Director of Panthera’s Lion Programme) said in a media statement on South Africa’s lion bone quota: “it is confounding that a country whose iconic wild lions are such a source of national pride—not to mention tourist revenue—would take such risks to sustain a marginal captive breeding industry that is condemned globally for its shameful practices. The legal farming of lions for tourists to bottle feed, pet, and ultimately hunt in tiny enclosures is a stain on South Africa’s reputation as stewards of Africa’s wildlife.”
The fact that the captive lion breeding industry tarnishes South Africa’s image as a conservation leader and damages our tourism industry, is supported by Sisa Ntshona (CEO – SA Tourism), who said there is a growing concern “internationally that we are seeing damaging our reputation…is a perception of our stance on animal interactions and canned hunting that might be potentially putting tourists off”.
South Africa’s tourism brand value could potentially be negatively affected by as much as ZAR 54 billion loss in revenue over the next decade, if the captive lion breeding industry is allowed to continue and if the assumptions behind the quantification hold in practice, according to Harvey. Even if only a small proportion of this projected damage is realised, the losses would still be significant, because they will further undercut the already stretched budgets for biodiversity conservation.
- According to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), in 2017 travel and tourism’s total contribution was ZAR 412.5 billion to South Africa’s economy, 8.9% of the total GDP, and supporting 9.5% of total employment (1,530,500 jobs). The forecast is for this to continue to rise.
- The captive predator breeding industry provides about 613 jobs or, if adding a multiplier effect, at best 1,162 jobs.
- Based on an average figure of US$606,459 in gross annual revenue for 47 facilities that offer human interaction (excluding hunting), and assuming that another 250 facilities generate similar revenue, the total gross revenue could be around US$180 million per year (ZAR 2.67 billion). Given that the industry employs only 613 people, it can be safely assumed that most of this money accrues to a small handful of owners.
- However, in the greater tourism context, this total gross revenue is minimal. If the above mentioned WTTC figure for tourism revenue is used, captive lion interactions account for only 0.6% of South Africa’s total tourism income. The continued protection of this disreputable industry is clearly not worth the risk to the country’s tourism reputation, especially considering that the captive lion industry itself is economically unstable.
- The revenues generated by the lion bone trade, while highly lucrative for the owners, are even smaller compared to South African’s tourist revenue, an industry that is threatened to be undermined.
- Even the trophy hunting industry believes that the captive breeding of lions is leading to reputational damage, translating into a 43% decline in income from hunting between 2014 and 2016, as stated by Mr Paul Stones (Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation – South Africa) during the Parliamentary Colloquium in 2018.
- Global trends of responsible tourism are showing that tourism is moving away from exploitative wildlife interactions. Nationally, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) launched their captive wildlife interaction guidelines towards the end of 2019, to position South Africa as a ethical tourism destination.
- The cub petting, walking with lions and voluntourism sector are closely related to the captive lion breeding and lion bone trade. Many tourists, especially the paying international volunteers, are often unaware that they are contributing to the perpetuation of an industry that generates revenue off false pretexts and they deprive local workers of employment opportunities in the process.
- There is also a significant risk to human safety, including fatalities, through physical interactions with habituated lions and other carnivores, resulting in at least 37 incidents affecting no less than 40 victims since 1996, including 12 deaths.
- The global awareness of the lack of ethics in the captive lion breeding industry is growing. Many global campaigns and marches have focussed on stopping the captive lion breeding industry, millions of people have signed online petitions targeting among others the lion bone trade, and 40+ major international airlines have since August 2015 refused the cargo of lion trophies. In addition, countries like Australia, France, the Netherlands and USA have implemented bans on the import of lion trophies. This should be of major concern, as many of the countries involved are among South Africa’s largest tourism source markets.
But this negative worldwide image can easily be reversed to a PR win, by banning captive lion breeding and the lion bone trade. This would show the world that South Africa can lead the way on animal welfare and ethical wildlife tourism.