South Africa’s 8,000-12,000 farmed lions are diseased and a potential risk to human health

The Born Free Foundation tells us that there are as many as 8000-12,000 captive lions on lion farms in South Africa. They are bred to be shot for fun or their body parts exported to China or some other Asian countries perhaps for medicinal purposes based upon superstition and not science.

The whole thing is objectionable to anybody interested in animal rights. The lions are held captive in 200-250 breeding facilities often languishing under appalling conditions which of course is going to help promote infections, contagious diseases et cetera. The animals are ruthlessly exploited by callous individuals.

Remains of lions at a South African lion farm
Remains of lions at a South African lion farm. Video screenshot.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

The diseased lions are destined to be shot by fee paying customers in Europe and can also spread their diseases to humans because some of them are zoonotic i.e. can be transmitted from animals to people and vice versa.

My information comes from a study published in September 2020 about zoonotic diseases carried by African lions held at these obnoxious lion farms. There is a link to the study at the base of the page.

Note: the video can be distressing. I can’t watch it.


The summary to the study states that the lions often have direct contact with people such as the workers and tourists as is to be expected. Thus, creating the opportunity for zoonotic diseases to pass from lion to person.

The study looked at a total of 63 pathogens carried by lions. A pathogen is an organism causing a disease in its host. It covers a variety of organisms from viruses to bacteria and fungi, and includes parasites.

Most of the pathogens affecting farmed lions in South Africa are parasites (56%). The second most common disease type was viral at 27% and bacteria was the third most common pathogen at 17%.

They found 83 different diseases caused by these pathogens. Because of this large number of diseases, they suggest that “the lion farming industry in South Africa takes action to prevent and manage potential disease outbreaks.”

They also concluded that:

“It is likely that farmed lions could play a central role in the emergence, amplification, and transmission of disease to both people and wild animal populations.”

What they are saying there I guess is obvious namely that the up to 12,000 captive lions living miserable lives under the abusive management of insensitive individuals can spread disease to other animals. They are a reservoir for disease.

This is another argument for why they shouldn’t exist. But of course, they are very profitable businesses and South Africa is a corrupt country with poor animal welfare standards so there is no chance of them being shut down.

You could shut them down on the basis of animal cruelty alone but that’s not going to carry any weight in South Africa.

Some specific diseases that they refer to include: “Mycobacterium bovis (a bacteria known for causing tuberculosis), canine distemper virus (CDV), canine parvovirus (CP), and feline panleukopenia virus (FPLV)”.

These are all highly contagious diseases which can kill. Infection by these diseases can cause a range of clinical symptoms including but not limited to the following: hair loss, diarrhoea, seizures, depression, recurrent twitching.

Some of the diseases are difficult to manage because they don’t require direct physical contact between lion and human or another animal. The lion can shed the pathogens in faeces and other body secretions such as aerosolised respiratory secretions (a fine spray in the air produced by a sneezing lion).

Intensive farming and close contact between lions can exacerbate the spread of these diseases particularly when they are kept under poor conditions and are presumably weakened. This can increase the prevalence of, for example, feline panleukopenia virus.

The diseases are promoted because of compromised immune systems. Also, it is alleged that there are poor safety standards and limited health standards at these farms. This indicates that they are “an emerging zoonosis hotspot”. That means that the farms can be a notable reservoir for the disease to spread out from those farms, as mentioned.

They suggest that some lions are infected with multiple pathogens which can kill. For example, lions were infected with both babesiosis and CDV “resulting in severe diseases like pneumonia and encephalitis, despite appearing healthy when infected with babesiosis alone”.

They say that some of the pathogens can be transmitted using keratin which is the material that makes fur. Therefore, the only requirement for transmission from animal to human is to touch the fur. They refer to, for example, Microsporum gypseum, the cause of dermatomycosis.

And some of the pathogens are asymptomatic and therefore there difficult to control and manage.

Visitors have remarked that at some lion farms basic hygiene protocols are missing such as hand sanitising and areas where shoes can be disinfected.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have reported that the lions are hosts for neglected tropical diseases.

The lions are also predisposed to getting Toxoplasma gondii infections. This is also a zoonotic disease and very prevalent in people and animals particularly cats. Lions infected with this protozoan pathogen can transmit it to people through faeces containing oocysts.

Lions are also vulnerable to bovine tuberculosis. And finally, it’s been confirmed that lions can be infected with Covid-19. There have been examples in zoos.

Link to study: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091692

1 thought on “South Africa’s 8,000-12,000 farmed lions are diseased and a potential risk to human health”

  1. Every lion farm video I’ve seen show sick emaciated animals. 20 lions crammed into one little barren pen. Zimbabwe is the worse.

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