In 2019, the South African government amended agricultural law. Lions, cheetahs, rhinos and zebras were among 33 wild species which became farm animals as of May that year, with the adjustment to the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) which governs livestock breeding.

In 1990 the first case of canned hunting in South Africa was recorded. In 2008 the export of lion bones from South Africa to Southern Asia started. Follow our brief timeline of the history of lion farming in South Africa from 1978 when the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) was founded to this day.

Click on the title of each item to read more details.


Release of the HLP report on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.

On 2 May Barbara Creecy, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs of South Africa, released the High Level Panel (HLP) report on the management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. The long-awaited report recommended moving away from lion farming.

Upcoming 19th Conference of Parties of CITES

Conservationists and lion farmers have their sight set on the upcoming CITES convention in 2022. Host country still to be decided upon after Costa Rica stepped down due to financial and other impacts of COVID-19.

Dead lion stockpiles grow despite suspended bone export quota

Legal and illegal captive-bred lion slaughter continues, stockpiles of dead lions grow, illegal exports of lion carcasesses from South Africa continue. Reports of cruelty and lions being killed during the COVID-19 lockdown. The NSPCA has their hands full with trying to get around the various captive lion farms.

NGOs and stakeholders invited to make presentations on High-Level Panel

High-Level Panel of experts on the review of policies, legislation and practices on matters of Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Rhinoceros management, breeding, hunting, trade and handling invite various NGOs and stakeholders to do presentations via Zoom and answer questions based on their initial submissions. High-Level Panel to present their final report to the Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries by the end of the year. Decision of the Minister on the captive breeding industry awaited in 2021.

Statement of President Ramaphosa at UN Biodiversity Summit

At the UN Biodiversity Summit held in September, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the consumption of wild species and habitat loss are driving pandemics and biodiversity loss.

Meat Safety Act amended to include 98 species of wild animals for consumption

The Meat Safety Act is amended to include 98 species of wild animals, including lions. This amendment was put out for public comment. The purpose of the Meat Safety Act is to provide measures to promote meat safety and the safety of animal products for human and animal consumption. It is thought that one of the reasons for this amendment is to regulate the slaughter of captive bred lions. Scientists express their concern at the risks of zoonotic disease by allowing the consumption of wild animals as well as the possible increase in the bush meat trade.

Release of Unfair Game

Release of Lord Ashcroft’s book “Unfair Game” – an expose of South Africa’s captive bred lion industry follows a year long undercover investigation into the industry.

Covid-19 outbreak from wild animal consumption brings the world to its knees

Experts continue to warn more than ever that eating lions carries human health risks.

DEFRA initiates consultation on import and export of hunting trophies

DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) in the UK calls for submissions on the banning of the importation of hunting trophies. Final decision delayed due to Brexit and COVID.

Captive-bred lions are listed as agricultural animals under the Animal Improvement Act.

Lions, cheetahs, rhinos and zebras were among 33 wild species which became farm animals as of May that year when the South African Government approved an amendment to the Animal Improvement Act (AIA) which governs livestock breeding. The legislation was slipped through without calls for public comments and causes public condemnation when it was discovered.

NSPCA wins court case against lion bone quotas

The NSPCA (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) takes the Department of Environmental Affairs to court to have the 2017/2018 lion bone quotas declared unconstitutional and illegal. Although a moot point as the shipments had already taken place, they won their case and no further quotas have been set while waiting for the High-Level Panel to complete their work.

Consultation meeting on 2019 lion bone quota

Department of Environmental Affairs holds a consultation meeting in Pretoria with affected parties to determine the 2019 lion bone quota.

Extreme cruelty at Pienika lion breeding farm exposed

In May the NSPCA (National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) exposes extreme cruelty at the lion breeding farm Pienika in Lichtenberg in the North West Province. Pienika is owned by a member of the Executive of SAPA (South African Predator Association). There were over 100 animals in filthy conditions, suffering from over-crowding and disease, with more than 30 lions in an enclosure of the size meant for 2 lions. Many of the lions had such bad mange that they had no fur whatsoever. Three cubs were removed as they were unable to move due to brain inflammation, one of these was euthanised. In June the NSPCA makes a follow up inspection of Pienika Farm and found no improvement. One dead cub was found in a storeroom and two others had to be euthanised as they had the same symptoms as the cubs found in May. A chest freezer was found with at least twenty lion and tiger carcasses of varying ages.

Tourists associations declare canned hunting and lion farming unacceptable

Both SATSA (South African Tourism Services Association) and ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) issue guidelines for wildlife interaction, declaring such practices as unacceptable

Recommendations of Parliament Portfolio Committee to shut down the industry ignored

Minister of Environmental Affairs ignores the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee’s recommendations and instead calls for a High-Level Panel to be convened to discuss captive lions as well as other species. Concern is expressed over the composition of the panel.

Inkatha Freedom Party include in their Manifesto statement on canned hunting

Inkatha Freedom Party Election Manifesto includes environmental issues and the words “Criminalize the practice of ‘canned’ or ‘captive bred’ lion hunting in all manner and form”.

Illegal lion and tiger syndicate uncovered by the police

A joint police task force uncovers an illegal Vietnamese lion and tiger syndicate operating in Klerksdorp in the North West Province. Six Vietnamese nationals and three South Africans were arrested. At least 40 lions were reportedly killed.

Report finds 91% of lion skeletons were not sourced from hunters

EMS Extinction Business Report finds that 91% of the skeletons exported included skulls, and were therefore not sourced from hunters who keep the skull as part of the trophy. Contrary to government claims, big cats are being commercially bred specifically for their bones.

Professional Hunters continue to split over captive-bred lion issue

PHASA membership split in half as Paul Stones leave the hunting organisation to form the Custodians of Professional Hunting and Conservation which is against captive-bred lion hunting and pro wild-lion hunting. PHASA expelled from further international hunting organisations.

Colloquium on captive lion breeding

South African Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs convene a two-day Colloquium in Cape Town in August on captive lion breeding and hunting to determine if the industry is harming or promoting the conservation image of South Africa. The Colloquium is open to all NGOs and stakeholders. The role of a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee is to consider Bills, deal with departmental budget votes, oversee the work of the department they are responsible for, and enquire and make recommendations about any aspect of the department, including its structure, functioning and policy.

Slaughterhouse at a lion farm exposed

Slaughterhouse at Wag n Bietjie lion farm in the Free State Province is exposed by the Bloemfontein SPCA (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) where 73 lions were shot over a period of 3 days. Bullets were fired through the ear and into the brain of the lions so as not to damage the skull after they were stunned with tranquiliser darts. Two lions were found in transport crates that were too small for them to stand up in or turn around. They had been in there for 3 days without food or water. Bags of innards were piled up on a truck outside creating an unbelievable stench. Inside the shed the floor ran with blood while a team of 8 workers stripped carcasses. The owner of Wag n Bietjie Farm is a former Council member of the SAPA (South African Predators Association).

Release of Cuddle Me, Kill Me

The international spotlight is cast on South Africa’s captive lion situation with the release of Richard Peirce’s book ‘Cuddle Me, Kill Me: a true account of South Africa’s captive lion breeding and canned hunting industry.’ New Zealand filmmakers Anton Leach and Jasmine Duthie meet Richard Peirce to discuss a film project based on the book.

Inkatha Freedom Party condemns lion bone trade

IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) issues a press release where Chief Whip in Parliament, Mr Narend Singh,MP, said “Despite no credible basis in science, or socio-economic benefits to the South African people, our government persists in what can be justifiably argued as the decimation of our wild lion populations through allowing the continued commodification of this iconic African apex predator, the African Lion. These appalling policy initiatives by government, which fly directly in the face of international best conservation practice, beggar all belief and raise serious questions as to the motivations that inform them. A growing body of evidence…suggests not only no legitimate ‘science’ in support of the determination of lion bone quota trade quotas, but also absolutely no conservation value in the practice. The practice is nothing more than a commodification of an apex African predator for the pecuniary benefit of a small handful of people, at great and distressing expense to brand South Africa.”

Steep rise in poaching and slaughter of captive-bred lions

Significant rise in reported cases of lions poached for their body parts, including from lion farms and big cat sanctuaries. Rise in legal and illegal captive-bred lion slaughter following the banning of trophy imports and the announcement of the quotas. Department of Environmental Affairs estimates there are about 300 lion farms in South Africa.

PHASA endorses captive-bred lion hunting

PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) reverses their decision to distance themselves from SAPA (South African Predator Association) and instead adopt a new constitution that accepts the practice of captive lion hunting. In the months to follow PHASA is expelled from international hunting organisations including Safari Club International and the International Council for Game & Wildlife Conservation.

First captive lion bone quota

A quota for the export of 800 captive-bred lions skeletons is set by the authorities of South Africa following the agreements from the 2016 Conference of Parties of CITES. 1500 export quota for 2018 determined (despite increased poaching). After pressure, quota is reverted back to 800 and exported – mostly from ‘euthanasia.’ Hunting trophies exported in addition to quota. 352 skeletons were in excess of quota and stockpiled.

SAPA develops norms and standards for keeping and hunting of captive bred lions

South African Predator Association (SAPA) develops its own norms & standards for the management of captive lions and for hunting of managed ranched lions.

The USA prohibits the importation of captive bred lion trophies.

The Fish and Wildlife Services of the USA ban any imports of captive bred lion trophy heads, skins, claws, teeth, and other lion parts from those kills.

South Africa allowed to create a lion bone export quota

A proposal to uplift African Lion from Appendix ll (Vulnerable) to Appendix l (Endangered) was defeated at CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife) COP17 (Conference of Parties No. 17). South Africa agrees instead to set a quota for the export of bones from captive lions only. This quota will not include trophies.

IUCN proposal to ban captive lion breeding

A proposal to ban captive lion breeding and hunting was accepted at the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) meeting in Hawaii. South Africa then rejected the proposal.

Netherlands bans import of lion trophies

The Dutch government extends the list of banned trophies to include white rhino, elephant, hippo, cheetah, polar bear and lion. Between 2012 and 2015 Between 2012 the Netherlands received 27 requests to bring a trophy into the country, which included lions, bears, elephants, panthers, monkeys, wolves, deer and lynxes.

Professional Hunters split over canned-hunting concern

PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) are invited to the premiere of ‘Blood Lions’ at the Durban International Film Festival. At PHASA’s 38th annual general meeting held shortly afterwards, the majority of members present voted to distance the association from captive-bred lion hunting until such time as the South African Predators’ Association (SAPA) could prove the conservation value of this practice to both PHASA and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Ban on transport of lion trophies by big airlines

Many airlines ban the transport of lion trophies and body parts. Among them were Emirates, Virgin, Delta, International Airlines Group (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus), Air Canada and Jet Blue. South African Airlines initially also banned the transport but were censured by the then Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa and rescinded their ban.

France bans the import of lion trophies

France becomes the first EU country to ban the import of lion trophies. In the 4 years prior to the ban, more than 100 lion trophies were imported in France.

Australia bans the import of captive bred lion trophies

It was reported that in the three years prior to the ban Australian hunters imported the bodies or body parts of 91 lions.

Cecil the lion killed by American hunter, “Blood Lions” released

Cecil, a very well-known collared wild lion in the Hwange area of Zimbabwe, is bow-hunted by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. He was wounded on the night of 1 July and only tracked and killed some 10 – 12 hours later the following morning. This caused global outrage and renewed calls for lion hunting to be banned. Later that same year the film “Blood Lions” is released, fuelling further outcry against the captive-bred lion industry.

Lion poaching increases, Lion breeders develop new trade

Lion breeders and bone representatives make several trips to China, Laos and Vietnam to develop trade and new products. Steep rise in the poaching of wild lions in vulnerable (small and relatively isolated) lion populations across several southern African countries, especially Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and Niassa National Reserve – deduction is that legal supply from South Africa not meeting the growing demand. The trend in lion poaching of wild lions mirrors the increase in captive-lion exports.

Motion in Parliament for debate on captive breeding and canned hunting of lions

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) introduces a motion in Parliament calling for a debate on captive breeding of lions and canned hunting. Motion was passed but the debate did not take place. The IFP is a South African political party founded in 1975 by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who led it until 2019.

Lion BIodiversity Management Plan created

Department of Environmental Affairs of South Africa creates Lion Biodiversity Management Plan.

Global march for lions in 63 cities around the world

First Global March for Lions in over 63 cities around the world. Some of the cities were New York, London, Edinburgh, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Durban, Los Angeles, Nairobi, Paris, Amsterdam, Sacramento.

Petition to ban breeding of lions and sale of bones

1.78 million people sign an online petition to President Jacob Zuma urging him to ban the breeding of lions and the sale of bones.

Captive lion population believed to be over 4500

Figures in captive-bred lions in South Africa are believed to be rising at possibly over 4500. Local current affairs programme, Carte Blanche produce an exposé on canned hunting; following Predator Breeders Constitutional Court judgement in favour of SAPA (South African Predator Association).

Standards for the hunting industry in South Africa

Department of Environmental Affairs publishes Draft Norms & Standards for the Hunting Industry in South Africa.

Increased captive-bred lion population and exports to Laos and China

Estimated 3000 -3500 lions in captivity in South Africa. 221 lions carcasses exported to Laos and China with South African breeders meeting suppliers of tiger bone wine and other products to establish new product lines. Claims emerge that lion farmers have begun digging up buried lion bones. In the following years between 2010 and 2014 official records confirm that 1,555 kg of bones, 2,886 individual bones and 3,018 skeletons were exported to Laos and Vietnam. It is believed that totals are much higher, as many of the exports go unreported.

Start of export of lion bones to the East

Asian wildlife traders start showing an interest in lion bone trade as a result of acute decline in tiger populations. In 2008 the first significant legal export of 60 lion carcasses was sent from South Africa to Laos.

SAPBA founded

SAPBA (South African Predator Breeders Association) is formed to represent the lion breeding industry, to be succeeded in 2012 by SAPA (South African Predator Association)

Government declares captive bred lions must be released into the wild before being hunted

South African government declares that captive-bred lions must be released into the wild 2 years before they are hunted. Breeders challenge this through the Courts and win.

5000 tigers in farms in China

Chinese tiger farm population has grown to 5000

Captive lion facilities in South Africa are well established

While numbers are unknown, South Africa now has well established captive-bred lion farms.

An estimated 30,000 wild lions in Africa

Africa’s lion population has plummeted from an estimated 100,000 wild lions in 1906 to just 30,000 wild lions in a diminishing range.

Canned lion hunting exposed in a documentary

On 6 May 1997 over 10 million viewers watched the ITV undercover documentary by Roger Cook “Making A Killing” (screened in South Africa on Carte Blanche) on the farm where previously a lioness was separated from her cubs and shot against a fence by a German hunter while the terrified cubs looked on. This produced worldwide outrage and a demand that the South African government outlaw this practice.

CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife) 9th Conference of Parties (COP9)

Resolutions make it an offence for the false labelling of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) products with reference to rhino and tiger, but later would be relevant to substituting tiger with lion in TCM products. In the following year, CITES Conf 9.13 increases the protection and labelling of products containing derivatives.

First reports on canned hunting

First reports circulate of old circus lions being sold for a canned hunt.

China starts tiger farming

With a depleted population of wild tigers, China begins farming tigers to use their bones and other body parts in Traditioanl Chinese Medicine.

PHASA founded

PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) is formed by a group of professional hunters to act as the mouthpiece for the South African professional hunting industry.

African lions listed as vulnerable

CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife) list the African lion on Appendix ll (vulnerable). Asian lion listed on Appendix l (endangered).

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