Media Release: Captive Bred Lions have a Huge Conservation Value


The Animal Rights Brigade have been at great pains to tell the world that South Africa’s Captive Breeding of Lions Industry (CBL) has absolutely no ‘conservation value’. By that, they mean, wild lions gain no survival benefits from the practice of breeding lions in captivity. They further claim, without producing any kind of proof, that a captive-bred adult lion, when released onto a piece of land, even where wild game animals may be roaming, cannot survive on its own. Such lions, they say, have no hunting experience. If they are to survive at all, therefore, (the animal rightists say), they will have to be fed by man for ever.

Many lion farmers, and many of the Professional Hunters (PHs) who guide foreign hunters on captive-bred lion hunts in South Africa, however, have a different story to tell.  They have repeatedly claimed that when an adult captive-bred lion is released into a well-stocked-with-game 1000 hectare hunting camp (paddock), often within only a few minutes of its release, the lion has found, hunted and killed one of the many wild game animals that live permanently in the hunting camp.

But neither side of the argument have, until now, been able to produce fool-proof evidence to confirm which of these contradictory statements is true.

In view of the fact that the South African Minister (of the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries) has established a High-Level-Panel of Experts to advise her on policy for the management of elephants, rhinos, lions and leopards – the TGA believes it is important, at this time, to publish this Press Release on the Conservation Value of the CBL Industry.  There are animal rightists on the Minister’s panel; and next year may be too late!

In 2017, one adult male lion and four adult (virgin) female lions, straight out of CBL breeding facilities, were released together on a game ranch property called ‘Athens’ (a fictitious name), somewhere in the middle of north-central South Africa. In size, the Athens Game Ranch is 38 000 hectares (95 000 acres) and it has been carrying a good number and variety of game animals for many years. At the time of their release onto Athens, the lions had not been fed at all.  They were simply let go and they ran off together into the natural mixed-woodland habitat.

Within a few days the group had split up. The male and two of the females formed a pride.  The other two females, from the outset, became singletons and they established individual and independent home ranges of their own. The three-some pride established another home range (and territory) which they shared.  No food was ever fed to any of these animals. From the moment of their introduction they have made their own wild kills and fed themselves. And they have retained their three independent group identities.

In the first year the four females, between them, reared 13 cubs.  At the time of writing, the surviving males of these cubs are now as big as their mothers. They are of a size and age, in fact, where they would, under natural conditions, be evicted from their family prides by their own parents. But that didn’t happen because man intervened.

During their second year of freedom more cubs were born to all four mothers. The number of surviving cubs now stands at 21. The four male cubs of the original litters were darted and neutered, to eliminate the chance of them in-breeding with their siblings and/or their mothers. The original male and two of the original females were darted and shipped off to another game ranch. Two new, unrelated virgin females, replaced the two original females that had been translocated, bringing the number of adult breeding females at Athens back to four. The original male was replaced with another, unrelated, adult breeding male in January 2020.  All this population manipulation was carried out to eliminate any chance of in-breeding.

Having been born and reared in the wild, none of the progeny from the Athens-bred lions can now be returned to the captive-breeding population. They will all, therefore, spend the rest of their lives running wild on other game ranches. As things stand at the time of writing, there are five adult lions back on the Athens property, and seven cubs/juveniles. The government permit stipulates that no more than ten adult lions can be maintained on Athens. New cubs from all the now pregnant lionesses are awaited expectantly.

The Athens lion-introduction experiment has been fully and scientifically recorded by a mature PhD student who is being sponsored by one of the lion farmers.  He has a year to go to complete his thesis and to get his doctorate degree. Only then will the minutiae of this great experiment be revealed.

Having had all their lions exterminated during the Angolan War, The Angolan government last year agreed to allow two small prides of CBL lions to be introduced to their national parks. Other than the fact that they seem to be ‘doing all right’, however, I have no further information on these Angola lions.

The time is now long past, however, for there to be any doubt that the CBL Industry has, indeed, a ‘conservation value’ for the wild lions of Africa; and a most important ‘conservation value’ it is, too!  There is no doubt now that South Africa’s CBL lions have the propensity to play a very significant role in the future well-being of what will undoubtedly become ‘re-wilded’ lion populations throughout Africa. If a new wild lion population is needed or wanted – anywhere in Africa – all that will be required to ensure success, is that the lions be released into a secure sanctuary with a good population of resident prey animals. The lions will naturally – instinctively – do the rest.

It would seem that lions are not very different from domestic cats. Even when a cat has never hunted a rat or a mouse in its life before, if it comes across one of them by accident, it knows exactly what to do!

Ron Thomson

Ron Thomson

I am NOT a ‘trophy hunter’ - and never have been. I am not involved in the trophy hunting safari business. I am also not a game rancher. But I have ‘administratively controlled’ professional hunters and safari outfitters in my capacity as a government game warden. I am an 80 year old ex-game warden with 60 years of continuous experience in hands-on wildlife management, and national park management, in Africa (1959 to 2019). In breakdown, I have 24 years experience in the management of national parks in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe - and in the management of the wild animal populations that lived inside those national parks; one year as the Chief Nature Conservation of the Ciskei in South Africa; three years as Director of the Bophuthatswana National Parks Board in South Africa; and I worked for three years as a professional hunter in the South African Great Karoo (taking foreign hunters on quests for plains game trophies). I discovered, however, that professional hunting was not my forte. I worked as an investigative wildlife journalist for 30 years in South Africa. I have written fifteen books and hundreds of magazine articles on the subject of wildlife management and big game hunting in Africa. Five of my books are university-level text books on wildlife management. I am a university-trained ecologist; was a member of the Institute of Biology (London) for 20 years; and was a registered chartered biologist for the European Union for 20 years. I have VAST experience in the “management hunting” of elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards and hippos (as part of my official national park work in the control of problem animals); and I pioneered the capture of black rhino in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley (1964 - 1970). My university thesis was entitled: “The Factors Affecting the Survival and Distribution of Black Rhinos in Rhodesia”. Look at my personal website if you want any further details about my experience:

Ron Thomson has 279 posts and counting. See all posts by Ron Thomson

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