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The big cat con: Inside South Africa’s shocking battery farms for lions

South Africa is the only country really that breeds lions for commercial use. From the time a cub is born and removed from the mother, she has five to seven years of quite a brutal cycle before it is slaughtered or hunted.

SALLY WILLIAMS: ‘Lions are an iconic species. It seems for all the people keen to cuddle them – bottle-feeding orphan cubs is always going to appeal to the vast wildlife-tourism market – there are an equal number keen to kill them. Royals like to pose with them, too – the Duke of Sussex was pictured tending a sedated lion in the wild not long ago, which is doubtless the kind of thing that volunteers think they will be doing. In 1980, about 75,800 wild lions roamed the continent of Africa. Today it is estimated that fewer than 30,000 survive. In South Africa, there are barely 3,500 wild lions left. Behind the fences of the lion farms, however, the country’s captive lion population has grown. In 1999, there were about 1,000; today, some 8,000 are spread over more than 200 farms. (These numbers are estimates – experts agree there is a lack of transparency.)

Lion farming and canned hunting are legal enterprises, and canned hunting has been worth millions to the economy. But such has been the outcry within South Africa and abroad about the practice of breeding lions expressly to be shot for sport, that the market has collapsed in the last few years – unintentionally fuelling the other equally controversial market for the country’s captive-bred lions, the bone trade. South Africa’s lion farms are spread across the country, but many are concentrated in Free State, a large province south of Johannesburg. Some are private; others are open to the public. Even those that present themselves as a tourist attraction are often involved in breeding lions…

‘South Africa is the only country really that breeds predators for commercial use,’ says Karen Trendler, head of wildlife trade and trafficking at the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA). ‘From the time a cub is born and removed from the mother, it has five to seven years of quite a brutal cycle before it is slaughtered or hunted.’ The plight of southern Africa’s lions often makes the headlines. In 2015, the release of Blood Lions, an affecting documentary on predator breeding in South Africa, coincided with the death of Cecil, a wild lion who was killed by an American dentist and recreational big-game hunter just outside Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe’. SOURCE…

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