Cuddling kills:

FOUR PAWS warns tourists to avoid cruel lion petting farms


6.8.2019 – In the run-up to World Lion Day (10th August), global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS warns tourists to stay away from facilities that offer cub petting activities. While many of these tourist attractions claim to help orphaned cubs, the reality looks different. A lucrative and cruel breeding industry supplies the growing demand for big cat cubs. In South Africa alone, there are around 300 breeding farms. While there are only approximately 3,000 wild lions left in South Africa's national parks, the number of captive lions has already grown to an estimated 8,000 to 10,000. Once the lions of the petting facilities are too big to interact with humans safely, they either end up in the canned hunting industry or are slaughtered and processed for traditional medicine.

To ensure the relative safety of the interactions with humans, the lions must be habituated to humans from an early age. This involves separating the cubs from their mothers just hours after birth to be hand-reared by humans. Not only does this cause enormous stress for both the mothers and the cubs, but the young animals lack the nutritious mother's milk and vital social interactions with older conspecifics. 

“The hand-rearing of lion cubs is unnatural and causes psychological and physical problems. Their life in the facilities is exhausting and traumatic for the young lions. There, they have to interact with humans between eight and ten hours a day – an absolute horror for such young animals that need a lot of rest and sleep, and like all babies, they belong with their mother.” 

Barbara van Genne, big cat expert at FOUR PAWS

Species conservation as a false pretext

Many petting zoos in South Africa claim to reintroduce the lions, when adult, into the wild and thus contribute to the conservation of the species. This does not reflect the truth at all. “The animals grow up in a completely unnatural way, without contact with older conspecifics and are used to the presence of humans. As with our domestic cats, young lions learn all necessary lessons from their mother. Hand-raised lions, however, learn neither to hunt, to perform natural behaviours nor to build social relationships with conspecifics. These lions cannot be released into the wild – they simply would not survive and would pose a danger to their wild conspecifics and humans,” says Fiona Miles, Country Director of FOUR PAWS South Africa.

Canned hunting instead of freedom for the lions

Many hand-reared lions end up in the canned hunting industry once they are too big and too dangerous for the petting zoos. Around 700 captive lions are killed each year as hunting trophies in South Africa. The animals that do not fall victim to this cruel hunt are slaughtered to process their bones. With 800 registered skeletons in 2018, South Africa is the world's largest exporter of lion bones to Southeast Asia. There, the bones are used to produce traditional medicine. The trade with lion bones fuels the demand, often causing free-ranging lions to get into the focus of poachers.

Sanctuaries such as FOUR PAWS’ LIONSROCK offer a species-appropriate home to suffering lions

FOUR PAWS strongly recommend tourists and animal lovers to only visit national parks and sanctuaries that make a clear commitment to not breed or trade with wild animals. They should provide a species-appropriate and safe home for animals that cannot be released into the wild. Direct interaction with the wild animals should also be prohibited, as it does not benefit the animals in any way. Read more on

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Press contact

Hannah Baker

Head of Communications UK 

020 7922 7954 / 07966 032 235

7 - 14 Great Dover Street, London, SE1 4YR


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