CONSIDERED THE inherent kings of the jungle, lions are wild animals, and opportunists. It is not often thought that lions could be bred for slaughter, but the harsh reality is that it’s an active industry in South Africa. Around 800 to 1000 captive-bred lions are murdered annually through canned hunting. But what does this industry involve and why is it still an unresolved issue?
You may be aware that trophy hunting exists: the active killing of game to take home as a ‘prize’ or a measure of your bravery. To some, a lion’s head mounted above a fireplace is the definition of strength, giving the industry much of its appeal. Another issue is ‘canned hunting’: the process of killing game, bred specifically for that purpose, in an enclosed and controlled area which increases the chance of a kill. Although a prevalent issue in South Africa, it’s lamentably often swept under the carpet. Lions are common targets of canned hunting. Lions can grow up with deformities and birth defects due to forced pressure upon lionesses to produce an unusual number of litters throughout her lifetime. Hunters, usually from North America or Europe, pay thousands of pounds (usually £5000- 25000), to visit these sites in order to obtain a kill, basing their chosen lion on its online profile. As this is a cheaper and more reliable method of killing game successfully than in the wild, there is high demand from wealthy foreign trophy hunters. It is devastating to see such a powerful mammal in such a vulnerable state, as though all their innate power has been wiped away from them. Once again, we have decided that one animal is more or less important than another, and it seems that lions have not quite made the cut.
Over 80 per cent of lions have vanished from their habitats: burgeoning human populations have often been blamed as the main contributor to this decline. Many people visit centres offering cub petting, often posed as wildlife sanctuaries. Again, it is unknowing volunteers who contribute to this business, when really these animals will never be reintroduced into the wild. Instead they are either sold to breeders and killed for the lion bone trade, or set aside for canned hunting when they’re adults. These cubs are usually taken away from their mothers just a couple of hours after birth. Sometimes the opportunity to walk lions on leads is offered. Juvenile lions can be used, usually drugged, before they are sold on. This is a lucrative revenue system, and high profits can be made through the exploitation of these animals.
Some rangers who work in national parks throughout African countries, such as South Africa, claim they would prefer the trade to continue as it prevents hunters entering natural parks and reserves and shooting lions there. The word legally should be strained here. There is currently very little ethic of animal welfare in South Africa. As ‘canned hunting’ lacks a legal definition, loopholes in the recording systems of the activity of such farms can be exploited. Some also argue that the profits claimed from the trophy hunting industry are then reinvested into the maintenance of game reserves and breeding programmes, more so than those hunting in the wild.
However, future ecosystems have a glimmer of hope. Since the release of the canned hunting documentary Blood Lions in 2015, countries such as Australia and France have banned imports of lion trophies. The Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) came out strongly against predator hunting and lion breeding. This credible, global campaign, and increasing levels of education about canned hunting appear to be enabling positive developments within the industry. Because, as Ian Michler, a specialist wilderness guide, said, “Not a single lion bred under the current captive conditions has any conservation value”.