South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry is a grim enterprise, and it is one that we have been working to shut down for good. Approximately 12,000 lions are held in 200 lion breeding farms, including some where trophy hunters, including many Americans, pay to kill the lions at point-blank range, in enclosures from which the animals have no escape.

It might sound like it can’t get any worse for the animals, but this week we got more evidence that it can. South African authorities discovered 108 lions, as well as tigers and leopards, suffering in terrible conditions at a captive breeding facility in the country’s North West province. Photos of the animals that Humane Society International obtained are heart-breaking. Many lions are covered in mange, their fur gone. The animals are living in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Authorities found no source of water and inadequate shelter.

Two lion cubs, who were unable to walk and appeared to show signs of a neurological condition, were removed from the facility.

Authorities also found that the facility had more lions on the premises than their permit allowed. “It is deplorable that any animal would be forced to live in such conditions, with such medical ailments,” an inspector told local South African media. “The fact that these are wild animals that are already living unnatural lives in confinement for the purposes of trade, just makes it more horrific.”

The animals are living in filthy, overcrowded conditions. Authorities found no source of water and inadequate shelter.

It is truly a sad situation and it demonstrates why we need to keep working to end this cruel industry. We already know these facilities exist solely to make money off the pain and exploitation of innocent animals. Captive-born cubs, torn from their mothers days after birth and abused for tourist selfies or other tourist opportunities like “walking with lion safaris,” are funneled either into the lion bone trade or the canned lion hunt industry once they are too old to be “snuggled” by people. Once there, they don’t stand a chance. They are offered up to trophy hunters who pay thousands of dollars -- depending on the animal’s mane size and color -- for a guaranteed kill and bragging rights.

A recent investigation commissioned by a British businessman and philanthropist also sheds new light on this depraved industry. Undercover investigators found a slaughterhouse connected to the canned lion industry with lion skeletons and intestines lying haphazardly on the floor, or in plastic bags. An investigator was also given advice on how to smuggle lion products into the United States.

Because American trophy hunters have been the main clients of the canned lion trophy hunting business, the Humane Society of the United States and HSI have also attacked this problem on U.S. soil, by working to shut down imports of lion trophies to the United States.

In 2015, of 1,052 trophies from captive lions traded internationally, Americans killed 686, or about 65 percent, and imported their body parts. In 2016, following a legal petition submitted by the HSUS, HSI, and our partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) finally listed the African lion under the Endangered Species Act, resulting in the United States imposing a moratorium on the import of trophies from captive lions in South Africa effective January 22, 2016. As a result of this, the number of captive lions trophies imported to the United States dropped to approximately 90 in 2017 – an 87 percent decrease. Unfortunately, FWS withdrew this formal moratorium last year. We are fighting to get full access to all FWS records on lion trophy import permitting and to allow scientific and public input in the trophy import decision-making process to ensure that no such permits are being authorized.

HSI also partners with Blood Lions®, an international campaign driven from South Africa, that seeks to end the lion breeding industry and its four pillars of cub petting, lion walking, canned lion hunting and slaughter for the bone trade in Asia.

Captive lion breeding has no place in a civilized world, and it is condemned by lion scientists because it doesn’t have any conservation value. You can help. Please sign our petition calling on the South African government to abolish the captive breeding of lions and all its exploitative spin-off industries that mishandle, mistreat and abuse these magnificent animals from cradle to grave.