Kate on Conservation

YouthForLions: Breaking the captive lion cycle

Lioness behind bars claws at chain and lock. Photo ©Pippa Hankinson courtesy of Blood Lions

The Blood Lions ‘YouthForLions’ team have officially launched a brand new animated clip showing the life cycle of a captive bred lion in South Africa, to create awareness of the canned hunting industry across the globe.

Blood Lions, creators of the international award winning feature film documentary of the same name, launched the campaign to educate young people about captive wildlife interaction and how these activities negatively impact the lives of the animals. Something I have experienced myself, as detailed in my latest Shamwari Diaries blog post — if you missed that, you can catch up here.


Since the Blood Lions film premiered in July 2015, the Campaign team, together with key partners around the world, including Born Free, have made great strides in their efforts to raise global awareness around captive lion breeding, ‘canned’ (captive) hunting and the lion bone trade to Asia.

lion skull and bones
Image courtesy of Blood Lions

The new video, created by Dave Cohen using illustrations by Patrick George, explores the exploitative activities that go hand-in-hand with the captive lion breeding industry, such as cub petting, lion walking, the lion bone trade and canned hunting.

You can view the full video by clicking here or on the image below:

The captive lion lifecycle:

The campaign’s new release is a simplified and animated look at how lion cubs, born in captivity in South Africa, are often taken away from their mothers when they are younger than 10 days old.

White lion cubs. Photo taken by Ian Michler, courtesy of Blood Lions
White lion cubs. Photo taken by Ian Michler, courtesy of Blood Lions

The removal of the cubs forces the mothers straight back into an intense breeding cycle. In captivity, lionesses often breed up to four or five times faster than they would in the wild.

The tiny lion cubs are then hand raised, bottle fed and used for cub petting attractions where members of the public pay to pet and hold them.

Young cubs interacting with volunteers, photo by Ian Michler, courtesy of Blood Lions
Young cubs interacting with volunteers, photo by Ian Michler, courtesy of Blood Lions

When they grow older, the sub-adult lions are trained to climb trees and pose on rocks for “selfies” during lion walking attractions.

Once fully grown, the now tame lions are often sold to captive hunting establishments where they can be shot and killed in “canned” or captive lion hunts, which take place within a fenced perimeter, to guarantee a kill.

Lioness behind bars claws at chain and lock. Photo ©Pippa Hankinson courtesy of Blood Lions
Lioness with no way out. Photo by Pippa Hankinson courtesy of Blood Lions

This is just one of the ways in which hand-reared and bottle fed lion cubs reach the end of their lives. Others are kept in small enclosures and killed for their bones to be exported to South East Asia to supplement the tiger bone trade.

lion in cage
Lions destined for the bone trade are often kept in small cages and enclosures wildly unfit for purpose

The bone trade exists mainly to fuel Asia’s appetite for traditional medicines, with tiger and lion bones used in wine or “cakes”, believed to have healing properties (though no scientific evidence supports this claim).

YouthForLions Digital Marketing Manager, Tamryn Stephenson, urges visitors to South Africa to think twice before you visiting attractions that allow, cuddling, walking or volunteering with predators including lions, tigers, leopard and cheetah.

“Understanding the different stages of exploitation that these cubs go through, and the fact that they are merely money making machines for their owners is the key to putting an end to this practice,” she says.

Don’t be part of the problem; Take the YouthForLions Pledge

If you would like to commit to not supporting breeders or operators that contribute to the cycle of unethical exploitation of predators, please sign the #YouthForLions pledge here:

By signing the pledge, you are adding your voice to the global call to stop the captive breeding and associated commercialisation of Africa’s predators. You will also pledge your support to the conservation community in their efforts to secure the survival of Africa’s predators in the wild while promoting the responsible interaction with, and respect for, Africa’s wilderness.

Visit bloodlions.org for more information.

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