Canned Lion Hunting is growing to be big business in Africa. Farms mass breed lions in pens, to be slaughtered in captivity with no chance to run.
There has recently been a sudden spike in news stories about endangered species trophy hunting, and a resulting growth in awareness and conversations about wildlife conservation efforts in Africa. However, while the spotlight has been focused on high profile wild game hunters, and their celebrity critics, there is another more insidious and hidden threat that is growing in South Africa – Canned Lion Hunting.
Chris Mercer, advocate, wildlife sanctuary founder and co-author of the book ‘Canned Lion Hunting – a National Disgrace’, describes canned hunting as “the hunting of an animal where the target is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter, because of either physical constraints…, or mental constraints…”
There is a growing industry set up around canned hunting in S. Africa, with about 160 lion farms or ranches offering so called “bargain” priced alternatives to hunting lions in the wild. In a mass production model of efficiency, lions are captured from the wild as cubs, raised in captivity and then forced to breed repeatedly. New born cubs are separated from their mothers as early as within an hour of birth and then raised in crowded pens. This quick separation ensures that female lions are soon fertile again and are therefore able to give birth to more cubs in their lifetime.
Even as cubs, they are featured in other forms of tourist attractions, from walks to petting interactions. Misleading claims by breeders, that the revenue from all these activities supports lion conservation efforts, have lured volunteers to work on the farms for free. The adult lions, raised in captivity unafraid of humans, and therefore unlikely to run when in proximity of a hunter, are released into an enclosed area. The mostly tame and sometimes even drugged lion becomes an easy, almost guaranteed target for tourist hunters. However, even with this simplified approach, amateur hunters often miss, only wounding the lions and causing an agonizingly painful and prolonged death.
If it isn’t enough that the lions are exploited throughout their lives and then killed for profit, breeders have found an additional source of revenue, in their death. Once the head or skin is claimed as trophy by the hunter, the breeders sell the discarded bones to markets in Asia, where big cat bones continue to be key ingredients in traditional medicine. This has created a vicious cycle of growing demand and could foreseeably lead to an increased risk of wild lion poaching to meet it. Canned lion hunting was valued at approximately $70 Million in revenue in 2012 and it has continued to grow steadily since then.
Conservation groups estimate that the number of lions in the wild has declined by approximately 75% in the past three decades, with numbers in Africa as low as 20,000. More significantly, many experts now believe that the proportion of captive lions is starting to outstrip the number of lions in the wild, by a ratio of 2:1. Yet, in many countries especially the US, the wild African lion is not listed as an endangered species, allowing the practice of unlicensed hunting and trophy imports to continue unabated. In fact the US is the largest importer of lion trophies and parts globally. While awareness of this issue is growing among conservationists and citizens in many countries like the UK and Australia, it will take strong global awareness and enforced regulations related to hunting and trophy imports to end this cruel and cowardly sport.