Because Lions Cannot Speak

Wildlife rehabilitation has become my life’s work, and my passion. I’ve worked on a variety of projects, and in many wildlife rehabilitation centres around the globe. I’ve studied a lot, had awesome mentors, and passed tricky examinations to be the best I can be at what I do.

Being a big cat fan, I jumped at the opportunity to embark on two stints of several months duration on a lion and tiger captive breeding project. As well as sometimes being in sole charge of the animals, I also had to conduct orientations and provide training for new volunteers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Very legitimate and well-meaning, wouldn’t you think?

Incentive to join? Cute, fuzzy cubs that “needed” hand-rearing. Vague but encouraging spins about conservation. The assurance given by the owners that I was working with “experts” who really cared about their animals.

Of course what I really mean is that, to my eternal shame, I found myself embroiled in the workings of a lion and tiger mill. And I do mean that, in exactly the same sense as the puppy and kitten mills that exist worldwide.

Yes folks, I had joined that band of people seduced by the claims of “responsible” voluntourism companies and project owners who de-fraud volunteers. They take your money – and then they lie to you. And when called out, when questioned, the lies get more outrageous. In the worst cases it turns to hostility, and you get the feeling that these people will stop at nothing to protect their sordid little empires. It is precisely for this reason that I have chosen to remain the anonymous author of this plea for justice. I have personally been threatened and bullied by disgruntled owners.

Let’s be very clear here. These projects are not about conservation. Even the South African Predator Breeders Association has admitted that lions bred on farms have no conservation value.

They are not about increasing numbers so that suitable candidates can be released to the wild or into game reserves. Game reserves are fully stocked. There is nowhere for lions to be released into the wild in southern Africa. And tigers clearly can’t be released – they’re not indigenous to South Africa. Habituation to people makes any animal unsuitable for release – ask any good wildlife rehabilitator.

They are not about preserving a diverse gene pool. I have seen brothers bred with sisters; uncles bred with nieces; grandfathers bred with grand-daughters. I have seen lions mating with tigers, with the only comment from breeders being what a coup it would be to have a liger to draw in the public. Worse yet, I once heard a suggestion to procure a jaguar to mate with leopards since the owner insisted that, apart from living on different continents, they were the same animal. I kid you not. And they’re certainly not about animal welfare. Lion and tiger mills are about one thing, and one thing only. Profit.

How do they achieve this profit? In several unsavoury ways.

The first is YOU. They’ll put up a website with some very pretty pictures which do two things. First of all they make you go “awwww”!! All those cute, fluffy bundles being cuddled by smiling teenagers. What follows is the second thing, and it usually works. You say to yourself “I want to do that!”

The second is hunting. But let’s qualify this. This isn’t the type of hunting where you go out into the unfenced veld, find a wild animal, and then take your chances. This is canned hunting. This is where the animal is in a confined area and has nowhere to go. The animal will be killed, quickly or slowly, following one shot or many – depending on your skill with a rifle. Or worse, with a bow.

The third, equally despicable profit-maker is the lion bone trade. Yes, there is such a trade just as there is a trade in tiger parts. As tigers become rarer, and the price of bits and pieces of them go up, lion mill operators find it convenient to sell off the by-products of dead lions to fill the gap.

So how do the last two profit-making activities have anything to do with voluntourism? Well, here’s the thing. All those cute, fluffy babies that all those teenagers were cuddling? All those babies that the owners, and like as not the tour companies, told you were going to be released, or go to zoos, or be used in scientific breeding programs? They’ll end up as trophies on a wall, or as a bunch of boiled bones. They’re going to end up dead at the hand of man – or woman. The “lucky” ones will be bred into the ground first.

What most volunteers don’t know, and are never told, is that by hand-rearing cubs they actively contribute to the canned hunting, lion bone, and tiger body part industries. Volunteers are doing the dirty work of habituating big cats to people, so that they’re easy to kill, because a habituated big cat sees humans as a food provider. Volunteers also actively contribute to the poor welfare of big cats in captivity.

How is this possible? Well, most volunteers on these projects are very young and naïve. No-one told them they should do some research first. Most volunteers don’t question why cubs are removed from their mothers at such a young age. Nor do they question the sheer numbers of cubs. Most volunteers never ask where the cubs go once they’re too big for interaction with the paying public. Young volunteers, in particular, tend to believe whatever fabrication is in vogue with project managers and owners. And that can change from week to week, day to day, even volunteer to volunteer, in some instances.

Volunteers don’t get a lot of quality training. In a lot of cases, training is left in the hands of fellow volunteers who may only have been at the project a week or two longer than new arrivals. With no adequate training themselves, how can they possibly provide first-class care, let alone pass high standards on to new volunteers?

Volunteers are not taught about hygiene, diet, enrichment, or how to tell if an animal might be ill. If you’re lucky you’ll find a longer-term volunteer who actually knows how to handle big cats. Otherwise you’re given all sorts of misinformation about interacting with them, which can be downright dangerous. Volunteers are laughed at if they show an aversion to chopping carcases or handling dead chickens. They are derided if they have the audacity to ask awkward questions or – heaven forbid! – start doing any independent research.

You see the owners and managers, these “experts” who breed cubs ultimately destined for tragic ends, only want volunteers for the large amounts of money they bring in. These “experts” often have no qualifications. They don’t care about the health issues brought on by inbreeding. They don’t care about the condition of females continually brought into oestrus by the early removal of cubs, or about the condition of males being placed with pens of receptive females month after month after month. They know nothing and care less about appropriately balanced diet and supplementation either for cubs or adults.

They care nothing about providing warmth – essential in the first few days of life as cubs are not immediately able to thermoregulate. They care nothing about feeding frequency, the importance of weighing cubs regularly, or even the composition of lion or tiger milk so they can match it as closely as possible with their dodgy home-made formulas. If you were to use the phrase “colostrum replacement for very young cubs” they probably wouldn’t know what you were talking about – but would dismiss it as unimportant. They don’t care that the consequences of incorrect diet on a cub can be disastrous. After all – there’ll always be another cub to replace any who die.

Often as not, they won’t consult a vet about a sick cub or adult. They might have their own small stock of medicines on hand which they will administer, witch-doctor like, for a diverse range of ailments. Most ailments in young cubs are dismissed as being a “normal” part of hand-rearing. Let me tell you, there is nothing normal about a cub having diarrhoea for days on end due to a poorly formulated diet.

Many will sedate animals with controlled substances on their own without the attendance of a vet. Most wildlife rehabilitation centres are not allowed access to these drugs. This is an undertaking that is blatantly against South African law. And these experts are certainly not there to teach, about anything – conservation, threats, disease. Some of them will even flatly deny the latest IUCN redlist categorisation, insisting that lions are not in trouble in the wild.

Adequate housing is also a foreign concept. I have seen enclosures of just a couple of hectares housing as many as 50 lions. I’ve seen the same sized enclosure housing 20-30 lions and tigers. I’ve seen enclosures the size of a small front garden housing up to 12 cubs. I’ve seen a small nursery building – around the same size as the average kitchen – housing up to 9 cubs. I’ve seen enclosures with no shelter from the elements, filthy water containers, and too many stressed animals. I’ve seen poor quality fences and gates, and electric fence systems that, if they’re even switched on, don’t necessarily work.

You, the volunteer, make this possible on such a large scale. It’s for the sake of your income that lion and tiger mills pull cubs from their mothers at two weeks, or even younger.

You, the volunteer, have the power to bring an end to this cruel and shameful trade. Refuse to be used by profiteers interested only in lining their own pockets. Refuse to be used by travel companies who support any project that advertises raising cubs, walking with cubs, or petting cubs. Use your voice and tell everyone you know about the reality of the predator breeders masquerade.

We owe it to all those cute fuzzy creatures in the glossy ads.

Back to Media

The NSPCA has huge animal welfare concerns for the animals exploited in the captive predator and canned hunting industry in South Africa. This industry is unregulated, uncontrolled and is responsible for untold cruelty. It is a tragedy that our wild animals are reduced to profit making machines. Coupled with this members of public are unwittingly encouraging and supporting this cruelty, so it is vital that the public are aware of the truth behind the industry so they can make informed decisions and hopefully choose not to support such an unethical industry.

Sr.Ainsley Hay, Manager, NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit

Breeding magnificent wild creatures like lions in camps so that they can be slaughtered for ego and money is unconscionable and should be outlawed.  Lions have the right to live in the wild and to continue playing their unique role within the ecological communities of Africa.  The continued existence of the canned hunting industry is a moral outrage that diminishes us all.  This important film shines a light into the dark corners of this ugly business.

Cormac Cullinan, Cullinan & Associates Incorporated

Cruel, barbaric, macabre – all words used by Australian MPs about lion farming and the canned lion hunting industry in SA.  Our campaign was glad to be able to assist and participate in a full length documentary that aims to expose a brutal industry whose whole business model is routine, egregious cruelty to helpless animals – for fun.

Chris Mercer, Founder, CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting)

Captive lions have long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape and their tragic story needed to be exposed before these practices negatively impacted on Brand South Africa. Congratulations to all involved in taking the time and making this happen.

Colin Bell, Tourism consultant and author of “Africa’s Finest”

“As a travel and conservation based organization, we find the “Blood Lions” documentary deeply disturbing. Despite being hard to watch, we urge people to get out there and see it. It is important to shed light on the dark and corrupt business of rearing lions for the purposes of hunting, in hopes of making a positive change. As we polled our membership, we found that individually each of our companies have chosen to stop booking all activities that contribute to this industry.”

The Safari Professionals – 30 Tour Operators based in the US and Canada

South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred, raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis. The canned hunting industry is unnatural, unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that, far from contributing to the future survival of the species, may, in fact, accelerate extinction in the wild, leaving behind a trail  littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims.

Will Travers OBE, President Born Free Foundation

The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust, in providing support for the making of this Documentary, does so in the firm belief that it is important that the true facts behind captive lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa, is brought to the attention of a global audience in order to create awareness which in turn will lead to much needed change.

Les Ward MBE, Chairman, The Marchig Animal Welfare Trust

This is a timely, courageous as well as a deeply disturbing documentary. It is at the same time, a voice for the wild and the voiceless … of saying “NO MORE!” to that terrible triad of financial opportunism, deceit and indifference to the non-human animal by those claiming to be conservationists.

Ian McCallum – Author, poet, psychiatrist and naturalist

With the constant pressure on wildlife, every effort must be made to keep our last vestiges of natural fauna and flora protected.    Canned hunting of any kind, along with the related consequences, must be condemned by humanity as not only a travesty of nature but also an utterly inhumane practise.   Taming lion cubs only to later hunt them is an utterly inhumane practice.   It is pseudo-hunting, a complete sham and does not even qualify as hunting on a sustainable use basis.   Wildlife conservation has to evolve into practices that are ethical, humanitarian and sustainable. This will not be achieved if there is not real and fair community involvement which has not been part of the hunting fraternity’s evolution.

Yvette Taylor, Executive Director, The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation

“Canned lion ‘hunting’ is nothing less than a bargain basement opportunity for foreign hunters to engage in one of South Africa’s most sordid practices. Hunting of captive bred lions entirely dependent on human fingerprints from cub to trophy is immoral, unethical and against all animal welfare concerns. The fact that it still continues as profitable commerce is a damning statement against all of us who have not properly engaged to snuff it out. Blood Lions is a good start to bring change.”

Dr Pieter Kat – Director: LionAid

Canned Lion