two lions - canned hunting

Canned Lion Hunting

Born to be killed: lion hunting in South Africa


South Africa is an extremely popular tourist destination. With its beautiful scenery and amazing wildlife, it draws in all kinds of travelers. From nature lovers wanting a safari through Kruger National Park, to hunters eager to see wildlife for a different reason.

Many international hunters travel to the region to participate in “trophy hunting,” from which hunters bring home dead animals as trophies to display on their walls and shelves as souvenirs. Nearly all wild species are available for trophy hunting – even threatened species like African lions and elephants – it is just a question of money. 

Home to nearly 300 species of wild mammals, including the “big five” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo – South Africa also has a sinister captive wild animal industry. This includes an extreme form of trophy hunting known as "canned hunting," where animals are trapped in fenced areas and simply shot, allowing for an guaranteed and quick trophy. 

This so-called “sustainable use” industry breeds animals like lions for cub petting attractions with unknowing tourists, as easy targets in canned hunting, or to be killed and sold as parts for use in traditional medicines in Asia.

Similar to there being more captive tigers living in America than remain in the wild, there are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 captive lions in South Africa. Bred on over 300 farms, this number far exceeds the estimated 3,000 wild lions that live in nature reserves and national parks in the country.

First pet…then shoot

For the thousands of captive-bred African lions, their life of suffering begins shortly after birth. Before becoming a trophy, lions are bred and raised on breeding farms. On these farms, cubs are quickly removed from their mothers and used as photo props for tourists or raised by volunteers who mistakenly believe they are contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild. The cubs are frequently ill due to stress brought on by constant contact with humans, poor nutrition, and terrible living conditions, which can lead to behavioral disorders as well as dangerous interactions with the public.

Being raised by hand, the lions hardly demonstrate any shyness or fear of humans, making them easier to shoot. After roughly four years, the lions reach the desired trophy age and are offered elsewhere to hunters for shooting or simply killed for their bones. 

By participating and paying for these activities – like cub petting or taking walks with lions – volunteers and tourists unknowingly support the inhumaneness of forced lion breeding and the canned hunting and lion bone trade industries.

Easy targets in canned hunting 

The most extreme form of trophy hunting is known as "canned hunting". This allows wealthy hunters from overseas to be given easy prey in the form of lions bred solely for the purpose of being killed. With canned hunting, the typically captive-bred animals are in a fenced area with no chance of escape. They may be lured out into the open with bait or even sedated with drugs, all to guarantee the kill for the hunter. 

Complete hunting packages, which include the “support” of professional hunters as well as room and board, are offered on the internet, at hunting trade fairs, or through specialized travel agencies. A fully grown, captive-bred male lion with a magnificent mane can cost over $30,000, while lions with particularly dark, thick manes can go for over $55,000. Lionesses can be purchased for $6,000 or less. Lions can be hunted with rifles or crossbows, and on some farms it is even possible to shoot lion cubs.

Anyone can go and hunt lions in South Africa – a hunting license or proven hunting experience isn’t usually necessary. This means that many lions aren’t killed by the first shot, which results in them experiencing a slow and agonizing death. 

Bone trade industry

With so many lions in captivity, many breeders have resorted to simply killing them for the escalating lion bone trade. Euthanizing captive-bred lions for their bones is legal in South Africa with a permit, and the selling of lion bones to Asia for use in traditional medicine products has become an important and lucrative side business for South African lion farmers.

This industry has already exacerbated the abysmal animal welfare conditions that exist on most farms, because a starving lion can still be butchered and sold for parts regardless of its health. The industry also poses a serious threat to wild lion populations. As the trend for using lion bones in place of illegal tiger bones in products increases, the demand for and monetary value of wild lion bones intensifies due to the perceived medicinal quality differences between wild and captive animal bones. This has already been seen in the increased poaching of wild lions in Africa for just their teeth and claws.

U.S. resistance against canned lion hunting

While once considered the largest importer of captive-bred lion trophies from South Africa, over the past few years imports of captive-bred lion trophies into the U.S. have decreased significantly due to changes in government policy. In December 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed African lions in central and West Africa as endangered and lions in southern and East Africa as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Both designations resulted in stricter criteria for the import of live lions and lion parts, like heads, paws or skins, into the U.S.

Due to the protections given under the ESA, FWS went even further in 2016 by banning the import of captive-bred lion trophies from South Africa due to their lack of conservation value in saving wild African lions.   

Another blow to the captive-bred lion industry occurred in 2018 by the U.S.- based Safari Club International (SCI). At that time, SCI declared they will no longer “accept advertising from any operator for any such hunts, or allow operators to sell hunts for lions bred in captivity at the SCI Annual Hunters’ Convention, or include any entries of captive bred lions into its Record Book.” The Texas-based Dallas Safari Club (DSC) also announced in 2018 that “the DSC does not support the practice of captive-bred lion hunting.” As the main proponents for big game hunting, the SCI and DSC decisions against captive-bred lion trophies helped further add to the decline in Americans visiting South Africa for captive-bred lion hunting.   

In 2020, DSC and the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation signed a joint letter suggesting each will “call on any Governments that allow the legal shooting of lions bred in captivity, to consider wider implications” and will “commit to discouraging members of signatory organizations from engaging in the practice of shooting lions that have been bred in captivity.” 

Our work to protect lions

FOUR PAWS has been fighting this cruel captive breeding industry for years, including submitting a petition with over half a million signatures to the South African government calling for an end to the lion breeding farms and horrible canned hunting industry. We will continue fighting for the protection of African lions and other big cats, both in South Africa and for big cats in the U.S., by calling for stronger animal protection laws and advising tourists everywhere to never participate in any activities that involve close contact with big cats, like cub petting or photo opportunities. Wild animals deserve a life of safety and protection in the wild, as nature intended.


  • A ban on commercial lion breeding farms and cub petting attractions
  • A ban on canned lion hunting in South Africa and the export of lion bones 
  • A ban on lion trophy imports into the U.S.

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