No more Lion Farms

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TODAY’S BIG TOPIC:
NO MORE LION FARMSThursday, May 6, 2021
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NICHOLE SOBECKI

By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

There are anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 lions living in captivity in South Africa—maybe as many as 12,000. Breeding them is a multimillion-dollar industry: Cubs are for tourists to pet and cuddle; adults are for hunters to kill; bones are for exporting to Asia for traditional medicine. Despite years of exposés into the neglect and exploitation that takes place in the industry, South Africa had steadfastly refused to shut it down.

Until now. On Sunday, the country made a sharp U-turn when the minister of the wildlife department announced an end to its captive lion industry. It’s a major win for both animal welfare advocates and lion conservationists.

What goes on at lion farms has been almost entirely hidden from public view, and much of what we know about the facilities comes from whistleblowers. But in 2019, Nat Geo’s Rachel Fobar was invited to visit one, after she reported on a complaint filed against the farm alleging neglect of more than a hundred lions. (Above and below, lions at Pienika Farm, which Fobar and photographer Nichole Sobecki, a National Geographic Explorer, visited.)

“I think they definitely did some clean-up before we arrived,” Fobar says of her visit. “It reminded me a lot of a regular Midwest farm, but instead of cows and chickens, it was lions, tigers, panthers, and other wildlife. It was bizarre seeing them behind wire fencing like that.”

She continues: “And, of course, we found out later that they were hiding their most sick animals from us—along with the bodies of at least 20 dead big cats.”

With Sunday’s announcement, all of this will come to an end. Fobar reports that South Africa will no longer issue permits to breed, keep, interact with, or hunt captive lions, and it’s also revoking all existing permits to breed lions. We don’t know yet what will happen to the thousands of lions living in captivity. They can’t be released into the wild because they wouldn’t know how to survive. It’s likely many will be euthanized.

Note: Our Wildlife Watch unit, funded by the National Geographic Societh, shines a light on the commercial exploitation of wildlife and other valued resources. Learn more about the Society’s support of Explorers highlighting and protecting critical species.

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TODAY IN A MINUTE
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INSTAGRAM PHOTO OF THE DAY
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THE BIG TAKEAWAY
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THE LAST GLIMPSE
PHOTOGRAPH BY EDELCIO MUSCATOrange crush: Meet Brachycephalus rotenbergae, the newly discovered pumpkin toadlet (above) found in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest. The thumbnail-size orange amphibian glows in the dark—probably a warning to would-be predators that his skin carries a potentially deadly toxin. The discovery of the new species comes amid deforestation that has cut its habitat drastically. “Unfortunately, nowadays, we are losing unidentified species faster than we can describe new ones.” herpetologist Ivan Sergio Nunes Silva

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