Lord Ashcroft’s exclusive revelations about “horrific” captive-bred lion farming

Lord Ashcroft, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party,  has made a series of major revelations about the captive-bred lion industry in South Africa.

In the light of his exclusive disclosures, Lord Ashcroft called on the South African Government to halt the “horrific and abusive” activity of “lion farming” and urged the UK Government to bring in new import laws to discourage the practice.

Lord Ashcroft has written a series of newspaper articles on “lion farming”, in which thousands of Africa’s most iconic animals are bred to be killed for their bones or as hunting trophies. His disclosures were made in today’s Mail on Sunday newspaper.

Lord Ashcroft, a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster, commissioned a year-long undercover investigation – codenamed Operation Simba – involving former Special Forces and security operatives. The result was a disturbing insight into the full horrors and illegal practices linked to “lion farming”.

The booming trade in lion skeletons is worth tens of millions of pounds a year and meets an insatiable desire in South East Asia and China for “traditional” medicines, including aphrodisiacs.

Lord Ashcroft’s disclosures today include:

  • Wealthy clients are sent brochures with photographs of captive male lions via WhatsApp, so they can choose which one to kill. Prices range from £10,000 to £42,300 per lion and depend on the size and quality of the mane.
  • One British hunter was filmed shooting an exhausted lion with tranquiliser darts on an illegal so-called “green hunt”. The lion had been chased by a 4×4 vehicle around a fenced hunting enclosure before the grinning City worker shot the terrified creature from just ten yards away.
  • The UK representative of a South African safari company advised an undercover investigator posing as a hunter how he could bypass a US ban on importing captive-bred lion trophies. He suggested first importing it to the UK – where such imports are not banned – before hiding the lion’s skin inside the skin of a dead red deer and moving it on to America.
  • More than 50 lions were slaughtered for their bones at a so-called “eco-farm” in South Africa’s Free State province in just two days.
  • Lions were kept in tiny cages and suffered appalling conditions in this farm’s blood-stained slaughterhouse before their deaths. Horrific pictures showed lion skeletons and innards littering the floor, while discarded internal body parts were piled high in overflowing black plastic bags on a trailer outside.
  • In what is believed to be an obscene bid to maximise profits, breeders in South Africa are thought to be cross-breeding lions with tigers and creating hybrid offspring. The abusive process, which can lead to birth defects and the early death of cubs, boosts bone weight, earning the breeders more money.
  • British tourists are unwittingly helping to encourage the horrific trade by paying to play with cubs or to go walking with adolescent lions: animals that are invariably destined to be slaughtered or hunted.

According to well-informed sources, there are now an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa – far more than previously thought and approaching four times the number of wild lions in the country.

South Africa is the only country that permits large-scale, captive-lion farming and that has an annual quota for the legal export of lion bones. Many more lion bones are illegally smuggled to the Far East.

Lord Ashcroft has called on the South Africa Government to make captive-bred lion farming illegal as it has no conservation value. He said: “The captive-bred lion industry shames South Africa – indeed it shames us all.

“By allowing such a barbaric practice, the South African Government is harming the reputation of a country that treasures its position on the international stage in the aftermath of apartheid. Captive-bred lion farming in abusive and horrific.”

Lord Ashcroft added: “I also call on the UK Government to follow the lead of other nations, notably the US, in banning the importation of captive lion trophies. We must do our bit to stamp out lion farming and show that we are not in any way complicit with it.”

Lord Ashcroft has unveiled a new website on his wildlife work: and has produced a YouTube film on his revelations about lion farming, see below:


Related Stories
Keep up to date with political & polling news
Sign up to our newsletter below