Outrage over lions bred to be killed by deep-pocketed trophy hunters

Born in captivity, the lion cubs are removed from their mothers within hours of their birth to be used at petting facilities.

There, unwitting foreign volunteers – often lured by lion farms advertising themselves as wildlife sanctuaries – pay hefty amounts to look at them or touch them under the pretense they’re helping to save the dwindling species.

“They do not know they are supporting a horrific industry, an industry that even many hunting associations reject as being unethical.”

When the lions are four to seven years old, they are sold for trophy hunting. “The laws require that the hunting is not conducted on the same farm that the animal was bred at. Instead, the lions are transported to other areas and shot there, some within days of being relocated.”

This practice guarantees a kill. “The habituated lion has nowhere to go inside the can or enclosure where it is shot. Occasionally they are attracted with bait, sometimes sedated. This most extreme type of trophy hunting serves the captive bred lions to their hunters on a silver platter.”

This scenario, exposed in the documentary film Blood Lions, is sketched in the introductory pages of a new parliamentary report on captive lion breeding for hunting and the lion bone trade, which calls for a policy and legislative overhaul “with a view of putting an end to this practice”.

The 24-page report, which was adopted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs during a special meeting this week, followed a two-day committee colloquium in August on the captive breeding of lions and the lion bone trade.

The report summarises the views of an array of local pro-hunting outfits, conservation organisations and international organisations at the parliamentary colloquium.

“Captive breeding of lions for hunting has long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape,” notes the committee in its report. “This tragic story needs to be arrested forthwith to avoid inflicting further and irreparable damage to South Africa’s conservation image and the responsible hunting industry that the country has succeeded to build over the years.”

The report finds that captive lion breeding holds no conservation value. “The revenues, which this industry generates, while highly lucrative for the owners, constitutes only a tiny proportion of South Africa’s tourist revenue that the captive lion breeding industry threatens to undermine.

“There are public sentiments that that captive bred lion industry is unethical and the lion bone trade is damaging to SA’s conservation record, damaging the socio-economic welfare of South Africans, damaging to South African tourism and hence must be stopped immediately by enacting relevant legislation. “

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) should urgently initiate a legislative and policy review of the captive lion breeding industry and should conduct an audit of captive lion and cheetah breeding facilities to assess legislative compliance.

The DEA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) should present a clear programme and time-frames to deal with welfare and health issues relating to captive-bred lions, says the report.

But the DEA, says one welfare expert, is “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”.

“On the one side, there is public opinion and an international outcry over the captive breeding of lions and on the other, the department has allowed this industry to grow. They are being hammered from both sides.”

Aadila Agjee, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, says the report is welcomed. “We hope this is the beginning of a just and equitable system for the management of captive lions and other wild animals bred for commercial use in South Africa, and we look forward to participating in the policy and legislative review of the industry.”

Karen Trendler, the manager of the NSPCA’s wildlife trade and trafficking unit, says a legislative and policy review is long overdue for a “brutal” industry with no conservation value.

“We’ve achieved, partly through the colloquium and partly through our collective efforts, as well as the fantastic committee chairman (Phillemon Mapulane), more than any of us would have anticipated or expected. It will be interesting to see what happens now going forward.” In September, the NSPCA lodged an urgent interdict against the DEA to suspend its authorisation of lion bone exports.

“The trade in lion bone could increase global demand putting not only wild African lion populations, but also tiger and other big cat populations, at risk,” says Trendler.

There are around 8000 to 10000 lions in captivity but the real figure could be far higher. “It’s a very closed industry and that’s one of the challenges in regulating it and monitoring it. These animals are being bred to be killed for hunting and the lion bone trade. But if the breeders can no longer breed lions, that would help reduce the numbers.”

Yolan Friedman, the chief executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, remarks that the report acknowledges “the widely held stance by most South Africans, and all lion biologists and experts, that this industry is nothing but a blight on the conservation pedigree that South Africa should otherwise be able to claim”.

Chris Mercer, of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, is skeptical.

“The DEA and other conservation structures in SA are so thoroughly captured by the hunting industry that I doubt if anything short of divine intervention would cause them to even look sideways at the hunting fraternity.

“I seriously doubt that such a captured conservation regulator will have any respect for the parliamentary report, and will continue to blindly support – and promote – canned lion hunting regardless of what the 12000 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) scientists and the SA Parliament are urging. We need a compassionate revolution in conservation,” says Mercer.

Deon Swart, the chief executive of the SA Predators Association, says it is “extremely unhappy” with the parliamentary report and could go to court to overturn a potential ban on the breeding of lions in captivity.

“The report is not a true reflection of what happened in the colloquium. There is a lot of personal interpretation. If this is the way we’re going in future with our conservation policy, being overwhelmed by minority groups, or people opposed to sustainable use… A lot of inputs were not reflected in this report.

“We firmly believe that our courts, as usual, will listen to us and rule in our favour. We’ve done it several times and will do it again if we need to. We don’t want to deal with government in court cases.

“We want to be friends with the government, to sit down around a table, have tea and discuss policy.”

The committee found that the Minister of Environmental Affairs must submit quarterly reports on the progress of the policy and legislative review.

This week, acting Environmental Affairs Minister Derek Hanekom stated that he intends appointing a high level panel to review policies and legislation on a number of matters related to animal breeding, hunting and handling.

Mapulane, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee, says captive lion breeding, both for hunting and the lion bone trade, has “caused much local and international uproar leading to the expulsion of certain members of the industry by international pro-hunting organisations.

“The IUCN had also raised concerns about captive lion breeding for hunting, calling on the government to terminate this practice.”

The Saturday Star

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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