South Africa’s Cabinet approves plans to phase out lion farming and private breeding of rhinos

In a significant and progressive move, South Africa’s Cabinet has approved policies put forward by the Minister of Forests, Fisheries and the Environment that include ending intensive lion breeding and the intensive management and captive breeding of rhinos for commercial purposes. The decision is the culmination of many years of discussions and consultations. 

A rhino with large horn is emerging from behind a bush


Welcoming the news, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said: “As many as 12,000 lions and other predators continue to languish in breeding and rearing farms across more than 300 facilities in South Africa. These animals are exploited for profit at every stage of their short lives: as cheap tourist props for selfies with ‘rescued’ cubs; then as part of ‘walking with lions’ experiences; as victims in ‘canned hunts’ where hunters pay to shoot them in enclosures; and finally as bags of bones for export to far eastern markets where they are used as ingredients in traditional medicines and tonics.  

“The abject cruelty associated with this industry was first exposed by British journalist and programme maker Roger Cook as far back as 1997, and subsequently in films such as Blood Lions and Lions Bones and Bullets, so this announcement by the Cabinet comes not a moment too soon. 

“The private ownership of and trade in rhinos in South Africa has been lauded by proponents as a vital conservation tool. However, the financial collapse of John Hume’s Buffalo Dream ranch in North-West province last year has served to highlight the misguided assumptions of those private ranch owners who anticipated big profits from the sale of rhino horn from farmed rhinos. Thankfully John Hume’s 2,000 rhinos are now being managed by the NGO African Parks who plan to rewild them, but the commercialisation of rhinos in the name of conservation is a deeply flawed policy. We are therefore pleased to see the Cabinet approve plans to phase out private rhino breeding.” 

Born Free has campaigned for an end to the cruel lion breeding and associated canned hunting and lion bone industries for many years. In 2018 we published our report ‘Cash Before Conservation – An Overview of the Breeding of Lions for Hunting and Bone Trade’, which led to an invitation to present information about the damaging impacts of the industries on animal welfare, wildlife protection, and South Africa’s global reputation, to a Parliamentary Colloquium in Cape Town in August of that year. In 2019 we released our award-winning animated film ‘The Bitter Bond’, which brought the cruel lion breeding industry to the public’s attention.  


On World Animal Day on 4th October 2020, we presented the South African government with a petition containing close to a quarter of a million signatures calling for the humane and permanent closure of commercial captive predator breeding industry and its associated activities, including captive lion trophy hunting and the export of lion skeletons for commercial purposes. 

Born Free has also consistently opposed the private ownership, breeding and trade in rhinos, and any resumption of the international trade in rhino horn, demand for which has led to the devastation of already threatened rhino populations by poachers, particularly in South Africa. In 2016, our co-founder and Executive President Will Travers debated this very issue at the Royal Institution in London with John Hume, until recently the owner of the largest number of privately held rhinos in South Africa. We have also defended the international ban on rhino horn trade at CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and made a number of representations to South Africa’s government urging for the reintroduction of the domestic ban on rhino horn trade, which was overturned in the courts following action taken by private rhino owners in 2017. 

Several public consultations on draft policy options for wildlife management have followed, throughout which we have firmly maintained our call for an end to the cynical commercial exploitation of lions, rhinos and other wildlife. 

Dr Jones concluded: “The South African authorities have delayed long enough. They now need to implement the phasing out of lion and rhino farming and breeding without delay, and with all due regard for the welfare of any affected animals. We stand ready to engage in discussions on how the policies might be effectively and humanely implemented, and urge the authorities to extend the phase-out process to other wild species, both indigenous and exotic, that are currently bred and kept for commercial exploitation in the country.” 

However, Born Free is also calling on the South African authorities to retract and rethink the recently published draft National Biodiversity Economy Strategy which would, if implemented, seek to substantially increase the commercial exploitation of South Africa’s wildlife through the expansion of trophy hunting, wildlife ranching, and domestic trade in rhino horn, ivory, and other products derived from wildlife, putting species conservation, the welfare of huge numbers of animals, and the country’s reputation as a responsible guardian of its wonderful wildlife at further risk. 

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