Lion death at Longleat Safari Park: Born Free reaction

4 January 2023


Born Free is saddened to learn of the death of a female lion at Longleat Safari Park, as a result of an aggressive interaction with a male.

A photo of lions at Longleat Safari Park in 2021

Zoo officials have described the incident as “very rare but can naturally occur amongst apex predators.” However, this is just the latest in a number of similar incidents in UK zoos:

  • In November 2022, a female Amur tiger was killed during a breeding introduction at Knowsley Safari Park. 
  • In June 2021, a whistleblower at Blair Drummond Safari Park reported the death of two lionesses following an altercation with a male lion. 
  • In February 2019, a female Sumatran tiger was killed by a male at ZSL London Zoo. 
  • In the same month, a lion was killed by lionesses at Knowsley Safari Park. 

Internationally, deaths of lions and tigers in zoos following similar interactions have also been reported, alongside those of jaguars, polar bears and chimpanzees.

Chris Lewis, Born Free’s Captivity Research Officer said, “These incidents highlight one of the many reasons why these species should not be kept in captivity. These animals are denied the opportunity to choose their own mates, and lack the ability to escape aggressive interactions. Combine this with the unnatural social behaviour that is so common among wild animals that are confined in captive environments, and you have a recipe for these kinds of tragic consequences.

“Zoos cannot claim that their facilities are the safest place for these animals, while at the same time trying to justify the occurrence of such incidents as ‘natural’.”

The captive breeding programme for lions, along with the majority of zoo breeding programmes, simply produces additional individuals for the zoo population. Individual big cats that are born in captivity are never likely to be reintroduced into the wild, given their genetic, social and behavioural unsuitability. There is no good conservation justification for keeping and breeding lions in zoos.

Wild lion populations have seen a dramatic decrease in recent decades. Today it is estimated that fewer than 20,000 remain in the wild. Lions are officially listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List. They face multiple threats including loss of habitat and a consequent increase in conflict with communities living adjacent to and within lion ranges.

Born Free is committed to genuine lion conservation by working alongside our partners in Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan to safeguard remaining lion populations. Since 2010, when Born Free’s lion conservation work really took off in Kenya, the lion population has seen a 25% increase. Born Free’s ongoing initiatives work with local communities to promote co-existence and facilitate people and wildlife living together more harmoniously.