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Cuddle, kill, conserve: a posthuman analysis of the African lion within the South African wildlife security assemblage

Emma Fletcher-Barnes (School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, Northern, Ireland)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 13 August 2020

Issue publication date: 21 May 2021




This paper explores the life cycle of a captive bred lion in South Africa, focusing on the distinction between captive bred and wild individuals. Lions are bred in captive breeding facilities across the country to provide cubs and teenagers for ecotourism, and following this, hunting “trophies.” A distinction is made between the “wild” and “captive” lion, a categorization that I argue legitimizes violent and unethical treatment toward those bred specifically to be cuddled and killed. This analysis explores how the lion is remade or modified from wild to commodity and the repercussions this has had throughout the wildlife security assemblage.


The paper is based on ethnographic research carried out in South Africa during 2016 that involved conducting informal and semi-structured interviews with activists, breeders, wildlife security personnel and conservationists drawing out the interspecies relations that influenced the encounters between humans and wildlife.


Dominant conservation narratives continue to understand and interpret wildlife solely as a commodity or profitable resource, which has led to the normalization of unethical and cruel practices that implicate wildlife in their own security and sustenance through their role in ecotourism, hunting and more recently, the lion bone trade. Captive bred lions are treated as products that undergo a series of translations through which they are exposed to violence and exploitation operationalized through practices linked to conservation and ecotourism.


Through posthuman thinking, this paper contributes to debates on the interspecies dimensions of politics through challenging the dominant assumptions that govern conservation and the interspecies encounter.



This paper was the result of PhD research funded by DEL PhD studentship through Queen’s University in Northern Ireland.


Fletcher-Barnes, E. (2021), "Cuddle, kill, conserve: a posthuman analysis of the African lion within the South African wildlife security assemblage", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 41 No. 3/4, pp. 475-488.



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