SA lions to be used as ingredient in fake tiger wine

There is something extremely bizarre about drinking a lion. But maybe in this world of post-truth it’s a new normal. After all, the cruelty we do to creatures in factory farms comes to us with no conscience, wrapped in plastic and labelled farm fresh. Every time we buy an egg or a steak or chicken breast we conspire in a little lie that it’s okay, writes Don Pinnock.

It is much easier to be cruel than one might think. It depends on how we understand it and whether we choose to ignore it. Cruelty has to do with suffering, whether it be emotional or physical.

There’s no doubt the creatures we farm to eat suffer, but we probably never see battery farm animals so it becomes easy to ignore. In their lifetime, unless they’re vegetarian, people in the developed world will eat the meat of around 20 000 entire animals.

Ignoring suffering is avoiding shame. The commercial marketing of animal parts is to avoid the possibility of feeling shame that may follow seeing how creatures are raised and slaughtered.

We feel no regret for the life of a genetically altered broiler chicken, too big-breasted to walk and living on mesh wire in a space as large as an A4 sheet of paper. Anyway, knowing that would spoil the taste.

So we feel no responsibility towards what Franz Kafka called the “unknown family” of invisible others, which included animals (he used to talk to fish in tanks and beg their forgiveness). They are, after all, farmed for our table. But lions? A beautiful near-endangered creature on Africa’s shrinking wildlands? Well, we drink them.

In a move clearly supporting the canned lion hunting industry, their consumption as an ingredient in fake tiger wine drunk by largely Chinese patrons is about to be legalised by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. This lifeline to an increasingly discredited hunting practice follows a US ban on the import of hunting trophies from the country and a decline of profits from canned hunting.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) made the 800-skeleton decision without public consultation. The DEA also plans to appoint a research group to monitor the exports.

The move has come under fire from a wide array of local and international environmental organisations and follows an ongoing controversy about South Africa’s lion breeding industry that promotes cub petting, lion walks, canned lion hunting and the supply of lion body parts.

“The decision is misguided and shameful,” said Audrey Delsink, Africa’s director of the Humane Society International. “Breeding captive lions is not only cruel and contrary to the global shift against captive wildlife, but is a potential threat to wild lions.”

According to Pippa Hankinson, the producer of the film Blood Lions, the quota appears to lack the requisite scientific basis and was arrived at without consideration of proper welfare or conservation protocols. There was no formal document to support how the quota of 800 skeletons was arrived at or how it would be enforced:

“South Africa (is showing) complete disregard for the overwhelming response by key global conservation leaders calling for the termination of captive lion breeding. In addition, this shocking industry is already adversely affecting Brand South Africa.”

In 2015, the Professional Hunters’ Association of SA (Phasa) passed a motion dissociating itself from the captive-bred lion industry “until such a time that the industry can convince Phasa and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) that the practice is beneficial to lion conservation”.

Last year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature adopted a motion to terminate the hunting of captive-bred lions and other predators and captive breeding for commercial, non-conservation purpose.

There are between 6 000 and 8 000 captive-bred lions in South Africa, more than twice the number of wild lions. An estimated 1 200 lion skeletons a year are presently being exported; while the DEA-endorsed 800 skeletons export would mean a reduction, it also represents tacit support for captive lion breeding.

A Cites report notes that trade is fine “if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild”.

In dealing merely with the impact of captive-bred lions on wild breeding stock, these reports ignore ethical issues and relegate lions to domestic farming stock.

There are also questions about whether the quota could be policed. According to Michelle Pickover of the EMS Foundation, there should be a moratorium on issuing any wildlife export permits because of the country’s extremely poor legislative and enforcement issues:

“At the meeting it was clear that DEA does not know how the industry operates, who the breeders, bone traders etc are, how many lions are in the industry and how many “facilities” there are.

“They leave this totally up to the industry itself. So it’s in essence secret and self-policed. There is also no transparency and this situation is worsened by massive corruption,” she says.

“They are wanting to do research as part of the quota decision. This is nonsensical – research needs to be done to establish the landscape and to ascertain if a quota is actually viable or not.

“Their position is clearly that because there is already a trade, it should continue. This is illogical. If they themselves are motivating for the need for research, then this suggests they do not have enough information.”

Pickover pointed out that because the US no longer allows the importation of captive trophies, there has been a shift to bone trade. “They are reporting a decrease of 320 lion hunts and a loss of 660 jobs and are supporting an off-take of 1 600 animals a year.

“DEA’s support for the lion bone trade is obvious. They do not seem to be concerned that they will grow demand. In fact, they said that demand was based on thousands of years of (Asian) culture and there was nothing we could do about it. This is astonishing, particularly given all the international and inter-governmental efforts to reduce demand.

“This does lead one to question whose agenda it is in our government to grow and support this unscrupulous and corrupt industry. And who is benefiting?”

The bones come from lions often raised in extreme cruelty. On breeding farms, females are forced to produce a litter every six months and the cubs are taken away within days after their birth to force early oestrus. They become drained and weak after a few years and can end up being “special offers” for hunters and bones for export.

According to Ian Michler, who produced the film Blood Lions: “Farmed lions are genetically contaminated, sometimes to the extent that they suffer from rickets, back and eyesight problems, all sorts of issues that come from inbreeding and cross-breeding.”

The health of the cubs, raised without mother’s milk, can suffer deficiencies, debilitating bone deformations, respiratory and thyroid problems, digestive disorders, calcium deficiencies and many other illnesses.

Down on the farm, it seems, cruelty to lions has become less important than sipping excretions leached from their bones.

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