PAIA campaign

In a joint scientific study, researchers from Blood Lions, World Animal Protection  and Monitor Conservation Research Society investigated the extent of the captive predator industry in South Africa. Using the right for public access to information legislation known as PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act), we gathered data to determine the extent of captive breeding, keeping, hunting, and trade of big cats across South Africa’s nine provinces.

Explore our research findings below to learn about how South Africa’s varying national and provincial legislation has created blurred lines and a lack of regulation.


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Let's Unpack the Research

Between 2005 and 2013, the number of lions in captivity more than doubled from 2500 to 6200.

This enormous increase in captive lions was due to an increase in demand for interactive activities like cub petting, canned hunting, and skeletons for the bone trade.

In 2019, Minister Barbara Creecy stated that there were 7979 lions being kept in 366 registered facilities. Even so, it is difficult to gauge the accuracy of these figures due to the possibility of unregistered facilities and those operating without the necessary permits. However, we still do not have accurate numbers for other indigenous and exotic species (like tigers) living in captivity in South Africa.

TAKE ACTION: Don’t support facilities that allow you to interact with captive wildlife. Rather #KeepItWild


Many conservationists have expressed concern that if South Africa continues to breed lions and other predators in captivity, it could cause serious harm to the country’s reputation as a wildlife destination focused on genuine conservation.

This would mean that any income South Africa gains from interactive activities, like cub petting, as well as canned hunting and lion bones, would not justify the damage the industry can cause to Brand SA.

TAKE ACTION: Don’t support facilities that breed wildlife in captivity for commercial purposes. Rather #KeepItWild

We used a public participation tool called PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) which is essentially a national regulation that allows the public to request information from government bodies.

This tool is incredibly important because your voices matter and all South Africans have the right to access information of public importance for the sake of transparency and accountability.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the Petition to support our Open Letter to Ministers Creecy and Didiza.

Understanding the legislation that governs the keeping, breeding, killing and trade of big cats can sound a little complicated, so let’s look at some common names that we often use:

NEMBA: The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act is South Africa’s primary biodiversity conservation law designed to regulate how plant and animal species can be conserved and used.

TOPS: The Threatened or Protected Species Regulations govern restricted activities that involve certain wild species, including indigenous big cats. It also regulates the permit systems used by those who want to breed, keep, and hunt lions.

CITES: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora governs the international trade in wildlife with the aim to ensure that such trade does not threaten the survival of the species

EMI: Environmental Management Inspectorates inspect captive facilities to ensure that they are complying with provincial and national regulations. 

TAKE ACTION: You can read about how we conducted our research and the findings here:

Part of an Environmental Management Inspectorate’s (EMIs) duty is to inspect captive facilities to ensure that they comply with provincial regulations relating to any restricted activities they engage in. This means they need to inspect aspects such as the security of the fences and camp size, whether or not facility owners have the right permits in place to breed and keep captive wildlife, and to enforce regulations especially where facility owners may not be complying with regulations.

The welfare of captive animals and big cats falls within the responsibility of DALRRD (Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development) and national and provincial authorities, even though EMIs do not have the necessary training in welfare issues.

TAKE ACTION: View and share our post on Facebook and Instagram to start a discussion with your friends and family.

Overall, our research into the Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) reports was concerning.
Across the three provinces that provided EMI reports, namely Free State, Mpumalanga, and KwaZulu Natal, the level of detail provided and the required information differed drastically.
We were concerned to find that inspectors often used vague and subjective responses to questions on welfare conditions. For example, limited ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers without detail about the quality of care or quantity of basic resources like water or shelter. In some cases, these questions were even left blank.
Even more concerning were reports indicating repeated and long-term welfare and compliance problems over several years. It is still not clear what enforcement actions were taken, if any at all.
Such repeat compliance and welfare issues included the illegal possession of predators, lack of veterinary care, enclosure concerns, and one facility operating as a rehabilitation centre without the necessary infrastructure or permits to do so.
TAKE ACTION: It’s time to #CancelCaptivity
When you visit captive predator facilities (that do not strictly adhere to genuine sanctuary welfare standards) and engage in activities like cub petting or viewing captive wildlife, you are supporting an exploitative industry that has been allowed to grow without proper enforcement of the existing regulations. Animal welfare often falls through the cracks as a result.
The NSPCA – National Council of SPCAs does not receive any government funding to support their work, yet they are the main body that enforces animal welfare regulations.
A sanctuary that is truly committed to animal welfare offers a lifelong refuge to animals that are unsuitable to be released back into the wild, such as lions. A genuine sanctuary stands against the breeding, trading or commercialization of animals or their parts and strictly prohibits human contact with their animals.
The paramount goal of a real sanctuary is to provide a secure and nurturing environment where animals can lead peaceful and contented lives, free from harm and exploitation.

TAKE ACTION: It’s time to #cancelcaptivity. 

The Gauteng nature conservation authority provided our researchers with TOPS permits for the keeping, breeding and transport of captive wild animals.
Unfortunately, for the captivity permits issued in Gauteng, almost 80% of them left out information regarding the number of big cats held in these facilities. In addition, no information was provided regarding the registration of births and deaths of predators in captive facilities.
This is concerning as it does not enable officials to keep an accurate track of the number of predators kept in facilities or traded across the province.
According to the data received, there was no trophy hunting of captive predators or mass euthanasia for lion bones took place in Gauteng between 2017-2020.
TAKE ACTION: Learn more about what makes a genuine sanctuary different to captive facilities below.
Gauteng issued a large number of CITES export permits and most of these (86%) were for the export of hunting trophies.
Even though no captive hunting took place in Gauteng, local taxidermists receive many lion trophies from other provinces and ultimately export them to the hunting clients overseas.
The province also issued a number of CITES permits for the export of live lions (12%) and lion skeletons (2%).
Of the live lions, more than 90% were exported to China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam and 74 lions went to zoos for commercial and breeding purposes.
The 22 lion skeletons were exported to Laos in 2017 and 30 skeletons to Vietnam in 2019.

TAKE ACTION: Learn more about what makes a genuine sanctuary different to captive facilities below. 

The North West nature conservation authority only provided our researchers with summarised information in response to our PAIA requests.
They issued a total of 174 captivity permits, 609 transport permits, and 1 544 hunting permits during the study period of 2017-2020. With 90 individual captive predator facilities in the North West makes this province second in the country and the top province for captive lion trophy hunts with the shortest ‘release period’ of only 96 hours before a captive-bred lion may be killed.
The North West issued 90% of all the lion hunting permits in the country, namely 1 544 permits which means that 386 lions were killed for their trophy each year.
It is hugely concerning that no permits are required in North West for the hunting of exotic big cats, only the landowner’s permission is required to kill predators such as tigers and pumas for their trophies.
TAKE ACTION: You can read about how we conducted our research and the findings here:
In three years (2017-2020), the number of permits issued for captive facilities increased by 17% and the number of indigenous big cats kept in captivity increased by 14% while exotic big cats increased by a massive 35%. The number of lions grew substantially starting at 1 860 in 2017 to 2 059 in 2020.
Other big cat numbers increased too with 176 to 230 cheetahs, 65 to 82 leopards, and 139 to 195 tigers. No information was provided regarding the registration of births and deaths of big cats in the North West.
A total of 237 lions were transported into the North West from other provinces, showing an active trade between captive predator facilities in other provinces for among others “canned” hunts in the North West, for tourist predator parks and for breeding.
The Free State authorities provided extensive information on all TOPS and CITES permits, as well as inspection reports.
The Free State is the province with the highest number of captive facilities (n = 123), namely 45% of the country’s total.
This also means a high total number of captive big cats exist in the Free State, an estimated 3,177 lions, 147 cheetahs, 251 tigers, 157 leopards, and a staggering 697 animals of other cat species. However, these numbers went up and down considerably from one year to the next during our study period.
In the Free State, 233 transport permits were issued in which 1,099 big cats were transferred between facilities within the province or between provinces, which were mostly lions (n = 869).
A further 18 captive hunting permits were issued in the Free State but interestingly all these hunts took place at only two facilities.
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It is worrying to note that the Free State is the only province that issued bulk euthanasia permits. There were 33 facilities involved in euthanasia and 235 lions were euthanised by one facility alone. Shockingly, there were 230 lions euthanised without microchipped numbers specified.
The EMI reports differed drastically with some inspectors providing very detailed reports with drawings of enclosures, whilst others provided very little information at all. For the most part, any welfare issues were noted in brief, subjective responses that showed little consideration for the quality of the care provided to the animals.
The CITES export permits show that 688 lions were exported either live (17%), as hunting trophies (78%), or as skeletons (4%). Most of the live exports went to China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The Mpumalanga authorities provided captivity permits and EMI reports. Worryingly, despite implementing a digital record keeping system, it was reported that 67% of the facilities had not started using it at the time of our research.
Over the four-year research period, a total of 35 lions, 4 cheetahs, 17 leopards, 10 tigers, and 38 animals of other cat species were kept in captivity across six facilities.
The inspection reports showed a worrying pattern of non-compliance for one facility in particular. For example, the facility did not keep accurate records of its animals, including a lack of reporting on newly acquired animals, deaths of lions, and leopards that were unaccounted for. It was further found to operate as a rehabilitation centre despite not having the necessary permits and protocols in place.
A second facility was also found to be non-compliant as it had been in possession of several predators illegally, transported tigers without permits, and displayed several welfare concerns. It is not clear what enforcement actions were taken.
TAKE ACTION: Don’t support facilities that allow you to interact with captive wildlife. Rather #KeepItWild
In response to our PAIA requests the KwaZulu-Natal authorities only provided summarised information for one captive facility in the province as well as EMI reports.
From the information we received, there were at least 31 lions, 7 cheetahs, 5 leopards, 15 tigers, and even a liger being kept captive in this province in 2018.
The inspection reports were highly detailed and noted various non-compliance issues over several years. This included a facility not providing adequate enclosures, a lack of veterinary care, a lack of enrichment and appropriate socialisation, removal of young animals, and uncontrolled breeding.
TAKE ACTION: South Africa, It’s time to#CancelCaptivity
The Northern Cape province paints a very different picture of captive big cats compared to the other provinces in South Africa. Aside from one rehabilitation facility, no captive lions may be kept in the province.
The Northern Cape only allows for lions to be released onto extensive wildlife systems in self-sustaining and free roaming populations. Hence, hunting permits are only issued to hunt wild lions, as opposed to captive or “canned” hunts that source their lions from captive breeding farms.
However, CITES permits for this province did show that at least 30 captive-bred lions that were hunted in neighbouring provinces, were brought into the Northern Cape for their trophies to be prepared by taxidermists and subsequently exported from the province to clients overseas.
TAKE ACTION:Don’t support facilities that breed wildlife in captivity for commercial purposes. Rather #KeepItWild
PLEASE NOTE: When you visit captive predator parks, support cub petting or walking with lions, you’re contributing to:
  • An industry which intensely breeds lions and other predators for profit.
  • A vicious cycle of wildlife exploitation that starts with interactive tourism, to “canned” hunting, bone trade and live trade.
  • A lifetime of suffering for wild animals that should not be kept in captivity.
  • An unregulated industry that does not always fully comply with regulations in the keeping and breeding of wildlife, especially when it comes to the animals’ welfare and well-being.
TAKE ACTION: THINK TWICE before visiting a captive predator facility. Don’t be part of the problem.