The general consensus is that the number of captive bred lions in South Africa may be as many as 12,000 being kept on 350 farms. Nevertheless, although these figures are widely quoted there is no accurate record of either the population size or the number of breeders. Neither the Department of Environmental Affairs, nor the South African Predator Association (SAPA) have figures that they regard as completely reliable. SAPA only has records of breeders which are members, and the Department of Environmental Affairs acknowledge there are breeders operating without permits and others still breeding after their permits have expired.

voluntourismLion breeding is a low cost business with profit at every stage. Lionesses are turned into cub factories by taking their cubs away soon after being born which brings mothers back into oestrus. In the wild a lioness will probably produce cubs every two years, whereas on lion farms they produce two, or even three, litters per year. There are three reasons cubs are taken away from mothers soon after birth. It produces cuddly cubs which foreign ‘conservation’ volunteers pay to bottle feed and rear, it habituates the cubs to humans which enables exploitation and assists with handling, and it turns the lionesses into cub factories. The profit stages are: voluntourism, cub petting, walking with lions, and finally a bullet. The bullet may come from a "hunter’s" gun, or from a farmer cashing in their lion to sell to the bone and trinket trade.

pettingLion farming can be an extraordinary business model. Veterinary input is often negligible or non-existent, and even feeding the lions can cost little to nothing because they act as a dead stock disposal service. All forms of livestock farming from chickens to cattle results in dead stock, and mortality on chicken farms is high. Disposing of dead stock can be costly and messy, but not if there is a nearby farm full of hungry lions. It is a win-win, unless you are a lion. Then you are being fed a sub-standard diet lacking in essential nutrients, and possibly containing pathogens.

cub mortalityIntensive breeding within limited gene pools results in genetic abnormalities, and bony structures are often compromised. Joints and the base of the skull are common sights of malformation. Abnormal growth around the foramen magnum, the opening that connects the brain to the spinal cord, can result in pressure on the parts to the brain that control balance and movement. This can result in tremors, head tilts and balance problems. Newly born mammals require a constituent in their mother’s milk called colostrum, which contains antibodies that boost the immune system and a mild laxative that helps with the first passing of faecal matter called meconium. Removing cubs from mothers deprives them of colostrum, and then filthy conditions, parasites, overcrowding, stress, and weak immune systems guarantee high mortality rates.

lion farm roadsignThere is no legal requirement to keep records of cub deaths, but on occasions the NSPCA have been called to lion farms where cub mortality evidence was often high. The cynical, but maybe accurate, view would be that lion farmers don’t care about high mortality because good husbandry is expensive and why spend the money when lionesses have become cub factories?

walk with lions2Volunteers at fake cub rescue centres, sanctuaries, and conservation facilities commonly pay between $1,000 and $3,000 a week for the privilege of working for someone else. Walking with lions costs an average of R700 (about $50) for 45 mins. Walkers have to carry sticks which the lions have been conditioned to regard as instruments of fear. Being hit with sticks while in training to walk with tourists helps to make human habituated animals even safer. However, not safe enough, attacks do occur which have resulted in walkers being killed and injured. Since 1998 sixty-five such incidents have been recorded with about 25% proving fatal.

lion trophyWhen too old for voluntourism, petting, and walking, the final outcome will be a bullet. The adult animals are either shot by canned hunters who may have chosen their lion from pictures on hunting websites on the internet, or they will be harvested for the bone trade. Canned hunting lion trophies vary enormously in price and a quick search of options offered on the internet reveals prices as low as $2,000 for a small ordinary looking lioness right up to in the region of $30,000 for a magnificent looking full maned male.  It is literally like going on Amazon and selecting a purchase to suit your budget. Sometimes there is a bonus when hunting farms not only get paid a trophy fee for the head and skin, but also keep the skeleton which goes straight to the bone trade.

lion skeletonsThe first recorded export of bones from South Africa to Southeast Asia was of 35 skeletons in 2008, by 2015 that figure had risen to 1300 per year. At the 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species (CITES), held in South Africa in 2016, it was agreed the country could export lion bones from its captive bred population. A quota of 800 skeletons was agreed for the first year. Tiger populations cannot keep up with the demand from Traditional Chinese Medicine for bones for processing into tiger wine, tiger cake (bars) and from the trinket trade for claws and teeth. It is almost impossible to tell the difference between lion and tiger skeletons, so 800 South African lion skeletons a year were legally sent to South East Asia where they would be passed off as being tiger. Experts believe that in addition to the 800 annual quota there is at least another 800 skeletons exported every year illegally.

tiger productsThe lion breeding industry is fraud at every level. A skeleton sells for around $1,650, each skeleton delivering about 60 bars of lion (tiger) cake which sell for $1,000 each, so at the consumer end the skeleton has become worth $60,000. 800 skeletons at $60,000 each results in the legal quota trade being worth a staggering $48,000.000. The breeders in South Africa only get about $1,320.000, but let’s think about what ‘only’ actually means. Before going to the bone trade voluntourists have paid breeders to rear their cubs, tourists have paid for cub petting selfies, and walkers have paid to stroll with an apex predator before a bullet produces the final cash input. Pay, pay, pay, and con, con, con. Voluntourists think they are saving naturally orphaned cubs, petters believe their money is helping conservation, walkers are not aware of the cruelty that helped made their walk "safe", hunters may not know that the farmers get a $1,650 bonus for their "lion’s" skeleton, and far Eastern consumers believe they are buying tiger products

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