Friday 01 April 2016 | 0

A king that became a commodity

A king that became a commodity

Mis à jour le 03 May 2018

Trapped, killed, poisoned, confined, contaminated, dispossessed of his territory on which he could survive, treated as merchandise, tamed and humiliated: an urgent mobilization on our part is necessary to save the one who was once recognized as the king of the animals!

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Throughout human history, lions have struck our imagination. In France, 35,000 years ago, artists painted lions on the walls of the caves of Chauvet, in poses that denote a very fine observation of animal behaviour. These representations even describe behaviours observed in African lions today (1). Since then, the lion has become a symbol of nobility, bravery, power and strength, and more recently, the symbol of the Lannister's house, with its motto "Hear Me Roar". In this worldwide phenomenon that is known as the Game of Thrones, HBO. Throughout history and throughout the world, statues, images and stories of lions are everywhere; but for these animals the cost of this attention that man has given them is very high.


A comparative mapping of human and leonine populations over the last fifty years shows that the number of wild lions in Africa has halved for every additional billion people in the world (2). In the 1940s, there were some 450,000 lions in Africa. In the eighties, there were less than 100,000 left. Today, it is estimated that between 23,000 and 39,000 lions, confined in only 20% of their original range and only seven African countries still harbouring populations of more than 1,000 wild lions Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. On the red list of threatened species the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has currently classified lions as "vulnerable", with only lion populations in West and Central Africa ranked as "in danger". In West Africa, only 400 to 500 specimens remain (3).

Dispossessed of his territory, shot and poisoned

The result from the development of agriculture and livestock in Africa is that lions are confined to ever smaller areas, where prey may not be large enough to support their livelihoods. Sometimes attacking cattle to survive. The result is a vicious circle because pastoralists and farmers in order to protect their livelihood, start killing lions they consider "pests" by shooting or poisoning them. Carbofuran, a pesticide used in agriculture, so toxic that it is banned in the United States and the European Union, is used to kill lions, particularly in East Africa. Just a quarter of a teaspoonful of this product will kill a lion in minutes. Farmers smear an animal carcass with Carbofuran, which may be enough to kill a whole pride of lions if they devour it. The animals that come to finish off the carcass, for example are hyenas, vultures, jackals and various insects, which also die.

Exposed to disease

Contact with humans and livestock exposes lions to diseases against which they are not immune and which pose a threat to their survival (4). These are mainly the distemper virus (CDV), feline immunodeficiency virus and bovine tuberculosis. Bovine tuberculosis was introduced, for example, into the buffalo of Kruger Park through domestic cattle, and buffaloes transmitted it to lions. As for the distemper, it now threatens lions in the Serengeti region of Tanzania. Kruger Park and Serengeti Park are home to some of the largest remaining lion populations, and the threat of these diseases is considerable (5).

Hunted for pleasure

Trophy hunting is allowed in several African countries who consider that it brings in funds for the conservation of their natural heritage. Yet these countries are precisely those in which lion populations are declining the fastest, and one study shows that trophy hunting does little to local economies (6). The lion is one of the five big animals that are popular with hunters.

Wild lion hunting can be very expensive and unsuccessful. This is why many trophy hunters are attracted to South Africa where they are guaranteed the ability to kill an animal. South African exports of lions that are kept in captivity included 6782 trophies, plus 734 skins and tons of lion bones. In South Africa, according to sources (7), there are up to 8000 lions in captivity compared to 2700 wild individuals. Lion farms have been the subject of a One Voice investigation. Cubs fetch a price, because people pay to see them and to pet them.

Teen lions are a good earner as well because people pay to walk around with them. Older lions fetch a good price because people pay to slaughter them and then carry off their stuffed head as a trophy, or use their skinned hides as carpets. Lion meat is profitable and so are the bones. The latter are in great demand in Asia for the manufacture of traditional Chinese medicines.

The suffering in the circuses

Only a few years ago One Voice organized the rescue of 3 lions, Shada, Djunka and Nalla, who had always lived in a circus in the Dordogne. They were kept in isolation in cages measuring only 1.83m x 1.83m and were used for breeding. Whenever Nalla and Shada gave birth, their cubs were taken away to sale. Thanks to One Voice and the Born Free Foundation in France and the United Kingdom, these three lions were welcomed by a trusted sanctuary in South Africa. In circuses, wild animals are deprived of everything that makes life worth living.

The suffering in Zoos

Lions have been popular with animal collectors since the middle ages and even long before in some parts of the world. There are currently between 7000 and 10 000 captive animal collections in the world, known as zoos or sanctuaries, which are open to the public (8), and not counting the unknown number of private collections. It would be difficult to determine how many lions are languishing in them, and it would be even harder to say how many of them have a life worth living. According to a survey of zoos in France in 2011, out of 726 randomly selected pens in 25 zoos, 1 out of 4 did not have an appropriate environment. The survey (9) concluded that "there is an apparent lack of consideration for the specific needs of each wild animal species concerned and that of the necessary care required in captivity." For example, "some species were enclosed in small, absolutely incompatible enclosures in terms of their needs concerning space."

It's time to act

Due to human activities, the king of animals is on the verge of extinction. Since the dawn of time, lions have been captured and imprisoned to entertain and amuse the public. As a first step toward to restoring balance, One Voice calls for the status of lions to be include in Appendix I of CITES, to stop any trade in lions or parts of lions. One Voice also calls on the international community to support programs to protect wild lions that still exist around the world and to put an end to the deprivation of captive lions.

Discover our campaign to restore the sovereignty of lions!


  1. Craig Packer et Jean Clottes, « When Lions Ruled France », Natural History, 11/00 pp. 52-57. 
  2. Secrétariat de la Convention sur la diversité biologique (2010) ) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3. Montréal, 94 pages,
  3. Henschel et al, « The Lion in West Africa Is Critically Endangered », PLOS ONE, 11 janvier 2014, volume 9, 1reéd.
  4. Roelke et al., Pathological manifestations of feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection in wild African lions. Virology, 390(1), 2009; Cleaveland et al., The conservation relevance of epidemiological research into carnivore viral diseases in the Serengeti. Conservation Biology, 21(3), 612-622
  8. Walker S. et al (2004): "The 'other' zoo world. Unaffiliated zoos and their impact on global zoo image and on conservation. What is to be done?" In WAZA conferences: proceedings of the 58th annual meeting, hosted by AMACZOOA, San José, Costa Rica, 16–20 November 2003. Cooperation between zoos in in situ and ex situ conservation programmes: 178–181. Dollinger, P. (Ed.). Bern: World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
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