Captive Lion Programs 'Conservation Myth'
August 2, 2012

Captive Lion Reintroduction Programs Operate Under ‘Conservation Myth’

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Panthera, a wild cat conservation group, published a new report in the international conservation journal, Oryx, concerning the reintroduction of captive lions to the wild.

Panthera is the world's leading conservation organization devoted entirely to wild cats and their ecosystems. Panthera develops and implements global conservation strategies for the largest and most endangered cats.

The report, 'Walking with lions: Why there is no role for captive-origin lions (Panthera leo) in species restoration,' released July 31, 2012, asserts that commercial wildlife encounter operations promoting the reintroduction of captive lions to the wild do little to further the conservation of African lions in the wild. A panel of lion conservationists and wild cat biologists from Panthera and IUCN Cat Specialist Group, along with a team of university-based lion researchers demonstrate that no lions have been successfully released as a result of this process.  The report condemns such commercial reintroduction programs as operating under a 'conservation myth.'

In the last 20 years, there has been a rapid growth of such operations across South Africa. The programs charge tourists and even allow volunteers to pet, feed and walk with hand-raised lions, stating that their objective is the eventual release of these tame animals into the wild.

Assessing these programs by the role and suitability of the captive bred lions for release, the report concludes that the captive lions are unnecessary for conservation efforts and unsuitable for life in the wild. Wild lions have been translocated and monitored in over 40 parks across southern Africa with high success rates. More importantly, the evaluation shows that captive-bred lions and their offspring are poorly suited for survival in the wild.

Panthera's President, Dr. Luke Hunter, explained, "The simple fact is, 'lion encounter' type programs do little to help conserve wild lions. We show that any sincere effort to reestablish lions simply has no reason to resort to captive animals; wild lions are already much better equipped to be wild. Releasing captive animals unnecessarily increases the costs, risks of failure and the danger - to both lions and humans."

The report further argues that captive-lion commercial enterprises divert critical resources and attention from projects that make a real impact on the declining wild lion populations.

Dr Paula White, Director of the Zambia Lion Project at the University of California notes, "These operations charge the public to spend time with tame lions claiming that it contributes meaningfully to lion conservation. Imagine if that funding, and the sincere interest of the people paying it, was devoted to addressing the real reasons that wild lions are declining and threatened. Spending money to breed lions behind fences is not helping."

A century ago, over 200,000 lions lived in Africa. Today, those numbers are estimated at less than 30,000. Wild African lions are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and have been rooted out of nearly 80% of their natural range. The lion is on track for extinction.

Dr. Matthew Becker, CEO of the Zambian Carnivore Program notes, “Certainly interacting with tame lions is a unique experience, but it's not conservation. We have such 'Walking with Lions' programs in Zambia and they require a continual stream of young imported lions, which live out their days in captivity because they are not suitable for release. Zambia doesn't need captive-bred lions versus increased protection of its wild populations and ecosystems. Help lions by supporting the classic walking safaris that occur in our magnificent protected areas - that's the real walking with lions."