The African lion conjures up images of majestic white-maned predators
ruling the savannah, the king of the beasts roaring loud or stalking
its hapless prey in the tall grass. But for many Panthera Leos, the
reality is much less glamorous.
While some lion cubs are bred ethically in legitimate conservation
programmes, many others are severely mishandled. Many of these poor
farmed lions are ultimately destined for paid hunting. Here, a
‘professional hunter’ with enough money can pay to shoot an impotent,
purpose-bred young lion at a private game reserve or farm. He or she
will then usually proudly pose next to the dead animal and claim its
carcass as a trophy before its expired bones are exported for medicine
the Far East.
While the African lion is revered in most African cultures, they have
been shot at, hunted, exploited and mistreated from Kenya to the Cape
since colonial times. But in past decades, thanks to their low numbers
(less than 20,000 in the wild, with a 75% decline in populations
overall) and strong conservation protections, private breeding
facilities and ‘canned killing’ have emerged as a lucrative alternative,
resulting in a small but powerful industry lobby group.
On canned hunting farms, young lions are ripped from their mothers as
cute young cubs, mistreated and kept in tight enclosures until they are
released into a larger compound, only to be cruelly gunned down or shot
with an arrow while trapped in a baited cage. Throughout their short
lives they are often poorly fed and suffer high levels of stress – and
they almost always end up pale and emaciated before meeting their
Ironically, given its proud natural heritage, strong efforts in
sustainable tourism and its renown as a travel destination, with more
than 200 farms South Africa is one of the places where this kind of
canned hunting is the most problematic.
So widespread is the practice that a recent report by the South
African Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs (PCEA)
damned predator breeding and in particular lion breeding farms in the
country. Encompassing an open forum for debate, the study brought
together everyone strongly against this ‘hunting industry’ well as its
Despite the protestations of the so-called ‘hunting industry’
supporters, the report concluded that predator breeding is unethical and
a blight on the country’s tourism sector. Lion hunting in South Africa
was also condemned for a litany of malpractices, including violating
animal welfare laws, breaking moral and ethical codes, poor regulation,
encouraging wild animal trafficking to replenish the gene pool, having
little or no conservation value and playing a major contribution in
tarnishing South Africa’s image internationally.
Unsurprisingly, supported by the likes of the Endangered Wildlife
Trust and the Born Free Foundation, the Captive Breeding of Lions for
Hunting and Lion Bone Trade report called for the practice to be
reviewed – with the aim of ending it as soon as possible.
Of course, those in support objected South Africa’s own DEA
(Department of Environmental Affairs) argued that the so-called
industry, especially the lion breeding farms, is a sustainable model for
using national resources and contributed jobs and tax revenue to the
economy, a viewpoint predictably supported by the largest hunters
associations in South Africa.
So, while several influential members of the South African government
and society are pushing to scrap the practice of canned lion hunting
and squash its sordid, greedy supporters, it remains to be seen which
side will be victorious. Given the state of the country’s politics and
finances, while it seems unlikely to change in the near future one can
only hope – or even better take action (see below).
Thankfully, while the practice does exist in other parts of Africa,
it is much less prevalent. Nevertheless, in Zimbabwe in 2015 an American
hunter shot and killed a wild lion. His victim just happened to be a
collared alpha male called Cecil, who was famous as a tourist attraction
in the country. When Cecil’s death was deemed by the Zim authorities to
be a legal hunt, it caused an international uproar and more fortunately
perhaps, focused much attention on the plight of his species around the
This resulted in a raft of new l