Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Walking with Lions and Captive Breeding in Zambia
Livingstone branch of the Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Society of Zambia (WECSZ)
June 2006

African Encounters, with Safari par Excellence, are planning to set up a captive lion breeding/tourist attraction in the Mosi-o-Tunya National Park, near Livingstone, and the nearby Dambwa Forest Reserve. The offspring of these lions will then be relocated to the wild to replenish depleted lion populations On the African Encounter Website ( it states that “captive bred lions can and have been rehabilitated to the wild. In South Africa this is confirmed by senior ecologists and conservationists”.

Lionesses and cubs will be imported from an existing operation in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and a breeding male lion from Tanzania to start the project. Cubs will be removed from the mother for hand-raising and habituated to humans for wildlife walks and when too big/dangerous at 12 - 16 months, will be transferred to enclosure(s) in the Dambwa Forest Reserve for wild-release training and “semi-captive” breeding. Second generation animals from Dambwa will then be released into areas where the lion population has decreased e.g. the Kafue National Park, and presumably into GMAs, where the real shortage of lions exists. (For more information on the project:;;

The Society’s concerns are several:
Captive breeding: The commercial breeding of lions has never been conducted in Zambia. Neither, to our knowledge, has the reintroduction of lions into the wild been successful anywhere else in the world. In light of these considerations and the South African experiences illustrated by Michler (page 14) we believe that the project warrants serious, prior, policy consideration

Reintroduction to the wild: Because the pride structure is absent in captive bred breeding programs, the rehabilitation process is arduous, and although attempted by Norman Carr, George Adamson and Gareth Patterson, has not been successful to the extent of integrating these lions into free roaming prides and achieving successful breeding from them. Dr. Paula White, researcher for Predator Research, who has worked on wild lion populations in Zambia including in Kafue National Park states: “An individual lion being released that way probably has an extremely low chance of survival, even lower chance of establishing itself as a breeding animal, and lower still of producing any surviving offspring even if it does manage to mate. A cohort of lions released together would have a better chance, but there are still issues of territory and hunting technique, the latter of which may be specific to region and prey base”.

The Ethical Conservation Network states that “to our knowledge, lions bred in captivity are never used by national parks or game reserves to establish lion populations, to augment free-ranging lion populations or to introduce new genes to free ranging populations. National parks and game reserves wishing to acquire lions for whatever reason take one or more prides of free-ranging wild lions from other national parks and game reserves. No conservation benefit derives from the breeding of lions in captivity. To claim otherwise is to attempt to put a conservation value on a purely commercial enterprise.” Dr White says, “Rehab rarely works for the animal. Agencies do it for PR, individual volunteers do it with the best of intentions, but the “freed” animals are usually never seen again. Because lions are so territorial, continual dumping of lions into an area would result in a lot of dispersers. This could provide additional huntable lions to GMAs, but it could also result in a lot of problems with hungry, displaced lions moving into human-settled areas and killing livestock and/or people. The African Encounters Mission Statement states that it is: “researching the introduction of captive breeding lions into the wild”, but does not claim any success in actually doing so. At this stage the rehabilitation process is still in a “research” stage. Since 1972, to our knowledge, none of Antelope Park’s lions have been reintroduced to the wild.

The Future of Surplus Human-Imprinted Lions
Technical Issues: Overstocking: The project anticipates up to twelve cubs a year. For the commercial operation, a constant supply of cubs is needed. Once these domesticated cubs are too big to walk with tourists, they are translocated into the fenced enclosures. Their off spring are to be released into the wild. At what density are the lions to be kept in these enclosures? How many enclosures are planned for with how many lions over say a five year period. The necessary stocking rate of lion fodder (live game) will also have a major impact on the environment (Dambwa forest Reserve) – quite part from its practicality.

Antelope Park claims to have a further 14 breeding programs / reserves in the offing. These to be situated in Uganda, Mozambique and a number of other African countries. Surplus “human imprinted” lion from Zambia will be relocated to these reserves and the breeding program will be continued in these countries. Have relocations conducted in this manner ever been successfully carried out before. If so, where? If not, and the lions are unable to be released, what is the policy towards protecting the lions from becoming part of the “excess” of captive bred lions which end up in illegal animal trade or canned or staged hunts. Most breeding centers serve little or no conservation value beyond offering a zoo experience and many owners have been accused of providing lions for canned hunting, although most deny this charge.
“As certain species are bred to excess, individual animals, unwanted and often uncared for, face an ominous future.” In recent years, to cope with this over breeding, an animal trade network has developed between captive breeders, circuses, zoos, research laboratories, the illegal animal trade especially to the Middle East and the canned hunting industry, often with specialized animal dealers acting as well-paid intermediaries. “One might well ask why measures are not taken to prevent over-breeding in the beast wagon. The answer, unfortunately, is that over-breeding, particularly of lions, tigers and leopards, is actively encouraged because those cute and fluffy cubs remain one of the star attractions of commercial enterprises”. Endangered Species in Abundance: Captive Breeding and Overbreeding of Lions

Policy, legislative and procedural: Does existing legislation permit the project? If yes, is the policy/legislation/regulatory framework robust enough to monitor the project adequately and ensure the necessary safeguards? If not what is needed to address loop-holes and omissions? Has the necessary environmental impact legislation and procedure been followed properly?

Ethics: Do the breeding ethics of this project conform to global animal welfare standards? What are the ethics of removing cubs as young as a week to three weeks old from their mother for hand raising, so the cubs can be easier handled for commercial walks. This is done for three reasons - to bring the mother into another oestrus cycle so she can be mated again. - the cubs will be imprinted by humans from a very early age so they are easier to handle as they grow up - this keeps the breeding/hunting/tourist operation with a constant supply of young cubs for tourist attractions, walks with lions, or for sale to other breeders and collectors. Captive lions can live to around twelve years old and are therefore producing double their natural litters. Breeders often argue that the removal of cubs at an early age is because the mother is a “bad mother”. Certainly, a lioness giving birth in artificial, unnatural circumstances can very easily become a “bad mother” due to the stress related to the captive environment. A lioness that has had her cubs removed at a very early age becomes visibly distressed. This practice is therefore considered inhumane and unethical.

Allied to canned hunting is captive breeding. These are the facilities that supply the canned hunting industry and also for the local and international and international wildlife trade. In the past Antelope park has sold lions to captive breeders in South Africa who are involved in the canned hunting industry. We are concerned over the ethics of such practice as it speaks of commercial gain and not conservation Helen Dagut, Campaigns Manager for IFAW Southern Africa, states “If captive breeding, other than for bona fide conservation purposes, was banned, we would rapidly see the demise of “canned hunting” and the indiscriminate trade of our wildlife.” The society is concerned that a surplus of “domesticated” lions could filter into the canned hunting industry in Southern Africa or lead to a canned hunting industry in Zambia or in other African countries.
Biodiversity: Zambia is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and should abide by the objectives of that convention. Michler states that breeding programs often use the guise of conservation i.e. to preserve and promote the genetic diversity of lions for example to conserve the gene pool. Breeding programs do not always adhere to the convention of biological diversity, the principles of which recognize the integrity of species and subspecies in the environment in which they evolve. Dr. White, states ”If it was suitable (politically, biologically, etc.) that an existing wild lion population be augmented by releasing additional lions, say perhaps southern Kafue where lion may not be as plentiful, it would be best from both a sub-population and ecological standpoint to release lion that were as close genetically to the existing population as possible”. Is this project compatible with CBD as stated? Is the project necessary from a Zambian biodiversity conservation viewpoint?

”The genetic implications of zoo or captured wild lion moved to a safari park, is huge – particularly if of a different genetic stock to that of the ‘local lion’. We have the evidence of zoo lion: long confined, fed by man and without the daily imperatives of survival, metamorphosed into an animal having with time an increasingly different genetic relationship with wild lion – the only true lion, because they suffer the curse of inbreeding, of the doubling of malign genes, of confinement. Safari park lion have, like domesticated dogs, come under the considerable selective force of man already, being moulded and changed to fit his design; they too will lose their fitness, will increasingly become domesticated, one day perhaps bearing as much relationship with a real lion as does the Chihuahua and the St Bernard with its ancient ancestor.” Ian Manning

Conservation: The justification behind this project is that second generation lions will be released in the wild in places where populations are low. To date the Society does not know of a single successful lion wild release project and the only attempts that are commonly known were effectively one-on-one programs. This should not mean the rejection of properly structured and planned biodiversity-oriented research programs: a) because captive breeding and wild release in other species has been successful in some cases; and b) lion populations are under threat – mainly from poaching, range encroachment by man, and from safari hunting. But does this project match Zambia’s needs or is it being externally driven with other objectives? Is it a sufficient priority to place in a funding queue ahead of other more urgent requirements? Dambwa Forest Reserve is currently a Joint Forest Management pilot area and part of an elephant movement and feeding route. Should these requirements be laid aside in order to accommodate non-compatible tourism plans?

Commercialism: Mixing commercial and scientific objectives is difficult. Is this primarily a commercial, or a biodiversity conservation project? If the former, are the biodiversity objectives not subverted? If the latter, is it effectively designed with carefully calculated and desirable objectives and outputs that will contain commercial objectives?
Canned hunting experience from zoos worldwide suggests that lions breed well in captivity (because of the removal of most competition, predation, disease and accidental-related losses). Unless the breeding program matches the release rate there is an inevitable build-up of numbers. South African experience indicates that as long as a wildlife trading network exists, the natural end point for this problem is the establishment of a lucrative canned hunting business capable of absorbing the surpluses. Will this project not amount to a self-fulfilling prophesy.
If the Zambian hunting industry was linked to canned hunting in South Africa it could seriously tarnish our hunting credentials through a negative response from the international conservation community. In South Africa lion trophies are no longer accepted in the record books of Safari Club International / Roland Ward as a result of the irregularities in the hunting industry due to canned hunting.

“Whatever one’s sentiments and opinion are, we all have to agree that this method of breeding large predators for hunting has branded South Africa as the skunk of the international conservation community. Hunting ethics in South Africa is at an all time low and respected conservationists are becoming more and more concerned by the day as they are of the opinion that the good conservation record they built up for South Africa 30-40 years ago are currently being soiled by unethical conservation and hunting practices. South Africans, many of them involved in the commercial utilization of wild animals are no longer practicing sound conservation principles, but are fast gaining a reputation for selective species conservation.” is going down South for the African Lion July 08 2005

In South Africa “there is hope for a full ban on canned hunting and the implementation of restrictions on those breeding large predators”. Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is reviewing the recommendations and findings of a panel of experts who are calling for a ban on the hunting of captive bred predators (canned hunting and “put and take” hunting), a ban on the import of all alien species for hunting and legislation that bans a species from being translocated outside of their range zones. Ian Michler Africa Geographic February 2006. Because of the depth of concern about these issues the South African government will debate a bill proposing the banning of this industry this year.
While South Africa attempts to control and legislate this industry Zambia is in a position to act wisely and with precaution. By setting regulations and laying down legislation now, we can not only prevent a situation developing like South Africa’s but also make a stand on the international conservation forum.