Canned Hunting

Q: What does the term canned hunting refer to?

A: The term canned hunting came into popular use in 1998 after the Cook Report, a British current affairs television programme screened on ITV, which featured footage of a lioness being shot several times within a small enclosed area. The term soon became synonymous with any form of trophy hunting where hunters shot trophy animals within confined areas ensuring they had no or little chance of escape. And today, canned hunting is widespread in South Africa were large numbers of wild animals are being bred in captivity specifically to be shot.

Q: And how does canned hunting differ from captive hunting?

A: For many people, there is no difference between the two terms. The term ‘captive hunting’ has been introduced by the professional hunting bodies in an attempt to get away from the negative image associated with canned hunting. But in essence, captive hunting is as it reads; wild animals are being bred in captivity to be killed in captivity or confined areas.

Q: What is ‘fair chase’ hunting?

A: Fair chase hunting refers to the traditional form of trophy hunting whereby professional hunters and their clients hunt in wilderness areas large enough for the free-ranging animals being pursued to have a chance of escape. These hunts can take up to 21 days, whereas canned hunts can be done in as little as 48 hours. Amongst the wider hunting fraternity, many fair-chase hunters regard canned or captive hunting as unethical or unsportsmanlike.

Q: How many lions are killed in canned or captive hunts annually?

A: Attaining precise statistics in this regard is also something of a hit and miss affair as there seem to be loopholes in the reporting systems and different ways of reading the data. The principal sources for this information are the South African Predator Association, The Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and then the various government and provincial bodies. Between them, the statistics indicate that anywhere between 800 and 1 000 lions are being shot annually in South Africa. Just over 50% of these hunters come from the USA.

Q: Does canned hunting occur in any other African country?

A: Not officially, but there may be certain cases taking place in some of South Africa’s neighbours. Canned hunting is however big business in some states in the USA, especially Texas where there are numerous ranches offering exotic species to be killed by canned hunters.

Q: Does the hunting of captive bred lions take the pressure off wild lions?

A: The claim that hunting of captive bred lions takes pressure off wild lions must be challenged as there is no science on this at all. Canned hunting has merely opened up an entirely new market for hunters that would not have been able to afford a wild hunt. And where wild lion hunting has dropped away, this is only because bans on hunting have been introduced. In the countries that still allow wild lion hunting (Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania for example), demand for permits outstrips the quota. And we also know that wild lion populations across Africa continue to decline.


Predator Breeding

Q: How many lions and other predators are being kept in captivity across South Africa.

A: According to government and private sectors sources, it is thought there are about 200 farms and breeding facilities holding somewhere between 6 000 and 8 000 predators in captivity. The vast majority, possibly as many as 7 000 of these, are lions. Other species include cheetah and leopard as well as a host of exotic animals such as tiger, jaguar and puma.

Q: Why do we not have a clearer idea of the numbers of predators in captivity?

A: Almost all the captive predators are kept in private facilities and the body that manages them is known as the South African Predator Association ( However, not every farm or facility that carries predators is obliged to be a member, and not every member provides the association with updated statistics. With regards to the authorities, the nine provinces should also have an idea of numbers as they issue permits for breeding, keeping and transporting, but we have found these sources seem to rely on the private sector for their information.

Q: Is it legal to breed predators on farms in South Africa?

A: Yes, as long as the farmer complies with the respective provincial legislation that focuses on minimum standards for fencing and enclosure sizes, it is legal to breed lions and other predators.

Q: What qualifications are needed to breed predators in South Africa?

A: To breed predators in South Africa there are no requirements with regards to understanding biology, animal husbandry, lion ecology or conservation in general. And as long as government regards the various revenue streams such as canned hunting and the lion bone trade as sustainable, it is also legal to trade in lions and their body parts.

Q: Why has predator breeding and canned hunting flourished in South Africa?

A: Primarily because every stakeholder – the government, provincial authorities, professional hunting and tourism bodies as well as conservation agencies have all turned a blind eye. As a result, the industries have grown significantly. Weak legislation, and in many cases a lack thereof, is another reason as the breeding of wild animals under farm conditions is an activity that falls neatly between the cracks in South Africa’s biodiversity and agricultural ministries. Because of this, the respective ministries, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries seem to be able to sidestep taking the ultimate responsibility.



Q: Is there any conservation value to breeding lions and predators in captivity?

A: In general, no. Very few of the facilities holding lions in South Africa are involved in the conservation of lions and none of the animals being kept in captivity can be used in relocation programmes. These captive lions are tame, human-imprinted and genetically contaminated. If lion ecologists and conservationists did need lions to start new populations, they would only use lions from wild stocks.

Q: Is there any merit in breeding lions in captivity for research purposes?

A: In general, no as researchers could use wild lions. And there are only a very few instances (during the making of the film, we were aware of only one study taking place using about 20 lions) of researchers using captive lions for specific projects such as disease analysis or genetic studies. In these cases, the number of lions required is merely a tiny fraction of the overall captive population. These projects choose to use captive lions because of convenience factors.

Q: To date, have any Lions been reintroduced into the wild from predator breeding farms in South Africa?

A: There has not been a successful lion reintroduction programme using captive bred and reared lions into any free-ranging park or reserve in South Africa. Lion conservationists warn that captive bred lions are not suitable for reintroduction programmes.

Q: Are there any examples of captive predators being used in conservation?

A: There are a few examples of predators being bred in captivity for conservation purposes. These projects, the Iberian lynx in Spain, the Amur leopard in Russia and China and the South China tiger project in South Africa for example involve species or sub-species on the brink of extinction. And unlike South Africa’s farms and other facilities, these projects are funded for proper relocation of animals and involve numerous scientists and ecologists working under strict peer-reviewed conditions.

Q: Is there any truth in the claims that this industry makes significant contributions to employment and the local communities?

A: While it is true that the breeders, canned hunters and farmers offer employment and create economic activity, these claims need to be contextualized. When viewed against the overall tourism sector in South Africa, the percentage contributions are tiny. The country currently receives over 9million International Arrivals annually (, and of these just over 9 000 are hunters ( The total contribution of tourism to the economy exceeds R95billion, while total hunting and game ranching activity is less than 6% of this. Canned lion hunting in turn is only a fraction of that. In addition, there is no research showing how any breeding facility or canned hunting operation has made any significant contribution to uplifting communities. It should also be noted that the vast majority of these operations are located on agricultural land or on the outskirts of urban areas.

Q: What is the current conservation status of lions across Africa?

A: According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature, lions are listed as Vulnerable. Over the last decade, there have been numerous attempts at establishing a continent-wide population and these studies vary between 20 000 and 35 000 animals. The numbers aside, nearly all agree that lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range, and they now only occur in 28 African states. Because of the rapid decline in habitat and numbers, there are some that believe lions should be afforded greater protection by upgrading their status to that of Endangered.

Q: What is the lion bone trade about?

A: The lion bone trade is a relatively new revenue stream for the breeders and farmers and has come about as lion bones are now being used as an alternative to tiger bones in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM used tiger bones immersed in vats of liquid, often rice wine to produce a tonic called ‘tiger bone wine’ that was prescribed for rheumatism, arthritis and other joint and bone ailments. Because trade was impacting on wild tiger populations, the Chinese government banned the trade in tiger parts back in 1993.

Q: Has ‘tiger bone wine’ been medically proven to treat symptoms of joint and bone ailments?

A: Although ‘tiger bone wine’ has been used in TCM for at least 1 000 years or more, there are no known medicinal properties. Chinese practioners believe that it is the calcium and protein found in the bone that acts as the healing properties. Recent research indicates that users are also buying 100g ‘tiger cakes’ (prices in 2014 were approximately $1 000 per cake) and using portions sprinkled into rice wine or whiskey in the belief that it improves sexual prowess.

Q: How many lions are killed annually for the lion bone trade?

A: The lion bone trade is a burgeoning component to wildlife trade. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs and CITES, 1 094 lion carcasses were exported from South Africa in 2013. This is up from 287 carcasses in 2010 and a mere 60 individual bones that went out in 2008. Given the history of wildlife trade markets, a legal trade in lion bones is highly likely to result in poaching pressure on wild populations.


Petting, Walking with Lions and Volunteering

Q: Do any of the facilities that offer petting and walking with lions have any conservation value?

A: No, these facilities are merely using lions as a lucrative revenue stream. In many cases, cubs are taken away from their mothers within the first week after birth and are then rented out or used to lure day visitors and volunteers. Once the cubs get to about four months old, they are then often used in ‘walking with lions’ programmes. Once adult, many will be sold to breeders and collectors, or they end up being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunts. None of these lions can ever be used in conservation projects.

Q: What questions should I ask, as a potential wildlife volunteer, to avoid unethical facilities in Africa?

A: 1. Ask the booking agent to tell you the exact name and place of the facility you will be visiting. And then check all the social media sites for comments and feedback on the facility.
2. Does the facility offer any form of human/animal interaction?
3. If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long homes for animals?
4. Does the sanctuary trade in animals?
5. Have any of their animals been released into the wild? And if so, where and when?
6. If they make any conservation claims, ask to speak to the resident scientist, researcher or conservationist.

Q: What is your advice to prospective volunteers about working on the lion farms?

A: Firstly, volunteers need to understand that they will not be making any contribution to securing the future of lions. Raising cubs taken away from their mothers at a young age has nothing to do with conservation. Most of these lions are bred on the farms specifically to lure you as a worker. In essence, the volunteers end up paying the farmer to raise lions that are likely to end up being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunts. Most lion farms and other predator facilities are using false marketing to make significant sums of money out of volunteer programmes.

Q: What other options are open to volunteers wanting to make a conservation contribution?

A: There are many alternative options that range from working with any number of globally recognized social welfare or educational NGO’s to the well-known conservation agencies. If in doubt, consult your local conservation authority or tourism body.

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