A lioness behind a fenced in area.

Trophy Hunting: South African Government Set to Ban Captive Lion Hunting



The South African government has unveiled plans to phase out the captive hunting of lions.

In a monumental move, the South African government is gearing up to ban the cruel business of captive lion breeding. Sadly, these lions bred in captivity are then exploited and brutally killed in canned hunts for “trophies,” oftentimes by wealthy American tourists.

The plan to phase out captive breeding of lions comes after the government already announced its intention to ban lion breeding in 2021. The more than 350 captive lion farms, holding 8,000-12,000 lions, will have the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw from the sector and change their business model before the ban kicks in.

World Animal Protection has been working to end South Africa’s commercial lion farming for years, launching an investigation into the industry just five years ago. In 2023, World Animal Protection published an investigative report focusing on exposing the criminal truths of the lion farming industry, revealing “off-grid” closed-access facilities, some of which were deliberately starving lions during the low hunting season to save money. Others were released to be hunted while partially sedated.

Lindsay Oliver, World Animal Protection US’s Executive Director, said in a statement:

“World Animal Protection applauds the South African government for taking this monumental step toward banning captive lion breeding. Canned hunting exists almost solely for wealthy Americans who then import the animals’ body parts to the United States for use as decoration. It’s cruel and should be banned. South Africa is moving toward halting this cruelty at the source. The United States should follow their example and ban the importation of wild animals, including those used as ‘trophies.’”

Trophy hunting—which is exactly what canned hunts are—is killing an animal for the sole purpose of entertainment, specifically to hang the animals’ bodies on their wall and to pose with for photos. The most coveted animals to kill for trophies are the Big Five—lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and Cape buffalos—and more than 125,000 animals are killed each year for this “sport.”

Canned hunting takes the egregiousness of trophy hunting further, ensuring animals such as lions are accustomed to humans and bred specifically to be shot and stuffed. In a canned hunt, lions are locked in enclosed spaces with the hunter, disallowing the animal to escape, and they’re often killed while eating food provided to them.

According to World Animal Protection’s 2024 report, Bred For Profit, approximately 5.5 billion wild animals are farmed for profit annually. The report found that South Africa’s National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspected 95 lion farms and stated that nearly half were housing lions in substandard conditions, including poor hygiene protocols, insufficient diet, unsatisfactory enclosures, lack of enrichment, insufficient provision of shelters, and lack of veterinary care for injured or ill lions.

What’s worse is that lions are often raised by volunteers who are tricked into thinking the canned hunting facilities are sanctuaries for big cats. These pseudo-sanctuaries use the volunteers to help hand-raise the lions so they’ll be easier to hunt in an enclosed setting.

While South Africa is thousands of miles away from the US, it is wealthy Americans who fuel this cruel industry. In 2015, more than 50 percent of all canned-hunted lions in South Africa were done so at the hands of US trophy hunters. Unfortunately, many people who take trophy hunting excursions are inexperienced hunters—ensuring animals killed suffer for prolonged periods of time before succumbing to their injuries.

Simply put: killing an animal for sport is animal cruelty, and World Animal Protection is grateful this industry is coming to an end in South Africa.

Before booking any experience with wild animals, check out World Animal Protection’s guide to being an animal-friendly traveler so you’re not unknowingly supporting an industry profiting from the suffering of animals.  

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