Article from Cape Chameleon – 16th June 2016 – The Fight Against Canned Lion Hunting – Finding Morality in a Corrupt Industry – About UKUTULA, an alleged Lion Breeding and Petting Centre – WORDS Kate Latimer –
The fight against canned lion hunting:
It’s 42 degrees outside. I’m standing in the back of a pickup truck with eight other girls, ducking from stray branches as we rocket along a bumpy dirt path leading back to the lodge. Sometimes we look back to check on the horse in the trailer we’re hauling. Yep, still dead.
It’s a normal day for a volunteer at Ukutula, the lion education and research facility, or as they advertise on the sign at the front gates, ‘a place of quiet’. We begin the morning feeding cubs, preparing bottles of formula milk to hand feed to baby tigers and hyenas. During my visit, the Lions were around three to five months old, and were receiving whole chickens we packed with protein powder. They are fed every day around 4 pm. The volunteers stand around just outside their enclosure and throw in the stinking chickens, aiming so that the little cubs have a chance of eating first. Some days a bigger lion steals their food, but ‘that’s how they learn’, the guides told us.
The Tigers get stimulated
Before feeding, the Tigers get ‘stimulated’; the term we use to describe our imitation of the process where the mother licks her cubs until they poop. The volunteers wipe with paper towels as the cubs squirm and scream. Then a bath, then feeding. The enclosures are kept immaculate, the cubs are cared for, clean, and most importantly, disease free. We receive a little training from the rangers, but mostly we just learn from volunteers who have been there longer than us, the practices getting passed on by watching and imitating. Then our morning cub duties slow down, we can play with them, pick them up and cuddle them, take pictures of them in our arms.
The tourists love it
If a tour group comes along we stand at attention, ready to save a poor tourist’s leg from a cub bite. They can take pictures of the animals, but they are not allowed to pick them up or disturb them from whatever they are doing. They sit on the floor, just waiting for one of the animals to come over to them, maybe get bitten by a baby lion or tiger – ‘an African tattoo’ the rangers usually joke to the startled tourist. Sometimes we take delight in the overconfident tourist who shrugs us off as three cubs start attacking their leg.
‘They’re just playing,’ they might say
But soon the look of pain crosses their face and we step in quickly. It’s so easy to forget that you’re dealing with lions and tigers. In the afternoon we might have ranger duty: usually picking up old vegetables and chickens, cleaning enclosures. Sometimes we get a call from a nearby farmer with a sick horse or a cow with a broken leg, and our rangers grab their gun as we pile into the pickup to go put down the animal. In exchange, we take the body and bring it back to our lions. A full-grown cow usually lasts about a day in the enclosure with our ‘walking lions’. During my stay, Ukutula had around 20 walking lions, all waiting to eventually find homes in safari parks or zoos. The lions come and go seemingly overnight, but all are micro-chipped with a tracking device.
It feels like paradise while you are there, like nothing in the real world can touch you. One day blends into the next. It’s clear how much the animals are loved. Gill Jacobs gets up several times a week to take the volunteers and special guests on a 6:30 am lion walk. She never gets tired of seeing the animals, she tells us. There are animals roaming free on the property – ostriches, zebra, giraffes, and wildebeest. Sometimes on a lion walk, even these seemingly tame lions who happily walk along next to humans, calmly taking chickens from their handlers, get distracted by an animal. We watch in amazement as their natural instincts take over and they move in for the kill. Usually an ostrich, sometimes zebra. Just when you start relaxing, these animals jolt you out of your comfort zone – reminding you of what you’re dealing with.
On our first day, we receive an orientation from the owners, Gill and Willi Jacobs. The research they are conducting, the disease-free lions they raise for the research, the lab they are building. The documentation of the research they have carried out with the University of Pretoria. As I listen to their talk, I realise they seem to be subtly on the defensive. For what reason, I’m not sure. Finally, they mention it – ‘Has anyone seen the documentary Blood Lions?’ I look around at our little group of new volunteers and we all shake our heads. They’ve made some accusations about our practices here at Ukutula, all completely untrue, things were taken out of context. But we are happy to answer any questions you have, please don’t worry about offending us,’ Willi says to the group. ‘Offending them?’ I think to myself. ‘But this is paradise.’
What is canned hunting?
Up until the late 1990s, the term canned hunting didn’t exist. Now it is a term that is tarnishing South Africa’s hunting reputation. The Blood Lions documentary, distributed by Regulus Vision and Wildlands, an attention-grabbing film created to raise awareness about the canned hunting industry, interviewed Chris Mercer, founder of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH), who explains, ‘a canned hunt is where the target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter, either by physical constraints, such as fencing, or by mental constraints, such as being habituated to humans.’ It is called canned hunting because the kill is ‘in the can’– you are almost 100% assured of your trophy. And it’s legal in South Africa.
It seems so easy: you contact a hunting lodge and are presented with pictures of lions to browse through. Once you have chosen a lion, you pay in advance and then set up your stay, often around three days. It’s a guaranteed kill. Prices vary, but as of 2014, a full grown female would be around $5,400 USD; a young, blond male would be around $16,000 USD; and a male lion with a black mane would be upwards of $48,000 USD. And while this might seem pricey, it is a fraction of the cost of wild lion hunting.
Why is canned hunting a problem?
Sitting in a dark theatre listening to the star of the documentary, Ian Michler – a renowned specialist wilderness guide and safari operator – answer questions after a screening at the World Travel Market conference, I couldn’t help thinking, why is this such a problem for this audience made up of travel agency owners and tourism experts? There are no animal activists in the room, and other than the obvious moral issues of breeding lions to be hunted with no chance of survival, I couldn’t really understand the bigger picture issues of canned hunting. It all seemed quite self-contained.
Although it is a rapidly growing industry, as of 2014 canned hunting contributes only R122 million towards South Africa’s total R95 billion tourism industry. The problem is that this tiny percentage of the tourism industry is damaging South Africa’s whole tourism reputation. Countries worldwide marched this past year to protest the canned hunting industry, and Australia and France have banned the import of lion parts into the country, with many countries soon to follow. The world is starting to stand together to reject this industry, and South Africa’s tourism reputation is dying in the dirt right alongside the canned lions. One in seven Africans’ livelihoods is dependent on the tourism industry. Now I understand the problem. Alongside lions’ well-being, a polarising activity like canned lion hunting is turning South Africa’s tourism industry into a target, without enough firepower to hold up the industry by itself.
Taking the pressure off wild Lions?
Ian Michler was also there to shut down some of the popular claims many canned hunting supporters make: doesn’t the canned lion industry take pressure off wild lion hunting? If lions are bred specifically to be hunted, doesn’t this save the wild lion population? ‘No’, Ian Michler stated emphatically. There is such a variation between canned lion hunting and traditional lion hunting, that instead of taking off some of the pressure, it just creates a new market. A wild lion hunt will last around 21 days, cost $76,000 USD, with a 61% success rate. This in comparison with captive bred lion hunting: lasting around 3 days, costing $19,000 USD, with a 99% success rate, makes it clear that these are not comparable activities and are drawing two very different kinds of hunters. According to the Blood Lions documentary, many traditional lion hunters have spoken out against the canned hunting industry.
Not only does the canned lion hunting industry not relieve the wild lion hunt, it in fact actively contributes to the direct demise of the wild lion population. From canned hunting, a spin-off industry has begun: the export of lion bones to Asian markets. Beginning with tiger-bone wine, many believe in the healing powers of a concoction created from boiling down the bones of tigers. Because of the increasing difficulty attaining tiger bones, the Asian markets have re-aimed their focus on lion bones, readily available as by-products of canned hunting. The bones are boiled down into wine and cake and sold for large amounts of money. Now, 100 grams of lion-bone cake can be sold for $1,000 USD, making lion bone just as valuable as rhino horn.
The side effect of the canned hunting industry
This side effect of the canned hunting industry is known to the South African government and is believed to be sustainable, according to Thea Carroll, the director of the Department of Environmental Affairs. She said in an interview given for the Blood Lions documentary, we are aware of the lion bone trade, and the extent of it. At the moment the department regards it as a sustainable activity. The bones are obtained as a byproduct from the lion hunting industry.’ In 2009, 169 carcasses were exported from South Africa to Asia, and by 2013, a staggering 1094 carcasses were exported. Chris Mercer has estimated that as of 2014, there were 8,000 captive bred lions some 250 sites around South Africa.
However, the market is no longer satisfied with bones obtained from the captive-bred lions. There is a belief that the bones from wild lions are more potent. The industry that has been awakened by the easy access to lion bones, is no longer satisfied with captive-bred lions and is turning instead to wild lions, posing a direct threat on the already dwindling numbers of wild prides.
Why is there no legislation against canned hunting in South Africa?
When canned hunting began as an industry, the South African government made an attempt to pass legislation to ban the canned hunt, but the High Court ruled in favour of canned hunting. In the last four to five years, the government has done nothing to ban canned lion hunting, and in that time, the industry has doubled. The intensive breeding of lions is accepted, with no regulations.
The problem seems to be that the banning of canned lion hunting falls somewhere in between different departments’ authorities. The Department of Environmental Affairs can only legislate based on biodiversity threats, and animal welfare falls to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Therefore, Environmental Affairs cannot ban the captive breeding that in some cases can be considered animal cruelty. It is a weakness of the South African system; the specificity of power allocated to each department often means it is impossible to take real action.
Alongside the legislation red tape, there is the inevitable economic incentive that makes Derek Hanekom, the Minister of Tourism in South Africa, reluctant to ban the industry. He says in Blood Lions, ‘Tourists come here to hunt, they are of great value to our tourism sector, as long as the hunting that they do doesn’t negatively impact on the reputation of the rest of the sector […] Trophy hunting can contribute positively to […] conservation, done in such a way that it is understood and appreciated by the public, including tourists who want to visit South Africa for the safari experience.’
It is, however, important to note that the Professional Hunter’s Association (PHASA) has made a stand against canned lion hunting. PHASA defines canned hunting as ‘when the animal is hunted in an enclosure small enough to prohibit it from evading the hunter, or when the animal is hunted while tranquillized.’ Ian Michler, in the documentary Blood Lions, isn’t convinced by this statement, as the wording used to define canned hunting is ambiguous, allowing for some loopholes when it comes to their associations with canned hunting. The statement goes on to later say, ‘captive bred animals, on the other hand, may be legally hunted.’ To keep an untarnished reputation, public opinion demands a denouncement of the canned lion hunting industry. It seems PHASA’s half-hearted denouncement might be a result of bowing to the pressures of popular opinion.
Haven’t you heard – it’s not cool to hunt captive-bred lions.
Hermann Meyerdricks, the president of PHASAS has now made the statement to his members, ‘I have come to believe that, as it stands, our position on lion hunting is no longer tenable. The matter will be on the agenda again for our next annual general meeting and I appeal to you to give it your serious consideration so that together we can deliver a policy that is defensible in the court of public opinion.’
The Fight Against Canned Lion Hunting – Finding Morality in a Corrupt Industry – Image Credit CACH
How can we eliminate canned hunting?
The first step is to cut off the revenue stream. According to Mercer, 55% of trophy hunters in South Africa are from the United States, while 40% come from Europe. To slow down US trophy hunters, one of the first steps is to get the United States’ Fish and Wildlife department to raise the status of lions to endangered. As of December 2016, the department has announced, “lions in central and western Africa will be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, while lions in southern and eastern Africa will be classified as threatened- meaning that the importation of the heads, tails, and skins of lions”. The next step is to raise awareness in Europe. In the next few months, Ian Micheler will be screening Blood Lions in parliaments across Europe, directly followed by a vote to ban the importation of animal parts.
Where do the lions come from?
No one is formally associated with canned lion hunting. There are no facilities that acknowledge any connection with the canned hunt. But trophy hunters want full grown lions – so they must be living somewhere. The answer is in lion conservation sites and sanctuaries. There is a whole side of the South African tourism industry reserved for lion walking and lion petting. These sites across the country breed lions specifically for tourists to come and handle cubs. They are removed from their mothers at around three days old, both to make them friendly to humans, but also so that the mother can begin breeding again quickly. Often the conditions in these places, as Blood Lions highlights, are far from acceptable. Once the cubs are too old to be cuddled by tourists, or to go on walks, they are sold to hunting farms.
Lions living in small cages, with poor hygiene, and obviously mistreated.
A place that claims the status of a sanctuary relies heavily on the voluntourism industry: usually young adults from across the globe, willing not only to volunteer their services but to pay for the opportunity to do so. They are told that they are helping to save abandoned lions that will one day be released back into the wild. There are no known cases of any lion being successfully released back into the wild. Ever. There are no conservation benefits of breeding lions specifically to be hunted. It does not help the wild lion population. This is simple: these places are bad. They lie to volunteers, they breed lions for tourism purposes and often end up supplying them to canned hunting farms when they have outgrown their cuddly phase. The incentive here is purely mercenary, and their claims of conservation have been proven untrue by countless animal specialists.
In the late 1990s, around the time Ian Michler began following the canned lion hunting industry, he decided to prove the connection between these lion tourism sites and canned hunting. He signed up for a canned hunt, went online and picked his lion. He was sent a picture of the lion. Following tips from some workers at a lion ‘conservation’ facility, he drove up a road marked ‘Do Not Enter, Trespassers Will Be Shot’ and found the owners house, along with a cage full of lions kept away from the eyes of the tourists. And there he found the very same lion he was scheduled to kill a few weeks later. Connection confirmed.
But what about Ukutula?
Featured prominently in the Blood Lions documentary, it is lumped in with facilities claiming to be sanctuaries or conservations. Ukutula does not claim to be either of these things – they are a research and education facility. They do breed lions, they do have a tourism industry, they do take in volunteers, but they have another very important side: the research. What the documentary fails to mention is the growing number of wild lions affected by tuberculosis. According to a ranger in Kruger Park interviewed by The Independent, around 90% of their wild lions are affected by tuberculosis, spread from the buffalo herds. But unlike Buffalo, tuberculosis affects lions much faster.
Ukutula is researching a vaccine for tuberculosis in lions, looking at hyenas who have a natural immunity to TB. There are many real issues facing the wild lion population that have nothing to do with canned hunting. At Ukutula they are researching artificial insemination techniques, with the hope that captive breeding will allow for genetic diversity to be brought to endangered animal species. The research is necessary, and they are looking not just at the short term, but playing the long game for the survival of the lion species.
The tracking device they place in their lions is not enough.
Though they claim it lasts a lifetime, people on the lodge explained the tracking information available to the public only lasts two years. The age they sell their lions at, around two to three years old, means that the tracking expires around the age of four to five years old. Trophy hunters are looking for lions around six to seven years old. There is still time for the lions to be sold to canned hunting farms long after the device has stopped tracking. Though they don’t really mention breeding to their volunteers, somehow there are always cubs for the volunteers to look after. During my time at Ukutula, three baby tigers were there, after an accidental pregnancy with a male tiger they had thought was infertile. There was a baby lion separated from its mother immediately after its birth – she was apparently stressed by construction going on at the time.
There were a lot of coincidences.
But Ukutula receives no funding for their research. The tourism that Ukutula considers part of the educational side of their efforts, seems to be the necessary evil that funds their research. But it is an inherently corrupt cycle, a constant stream of cubs with nowhere to go. And even with the best of intentions, where do these cubs go? It seems impossible that they have completely avoided all associations with canned hunting. The owners have denied any connection with the canned hunting industry, as do all the workers at Ukutula.
Ukutula is an exceptional case, serving to complicate the already murky industry of lion tourism in connection with canned hunting. However, it is the opinion of Ian Michler and Chris Mercer that we cannot support any lion petting or walking tourists activities. Perhaps under the threat of canned hunting, we are not ready for the long-term research Ukutula is working towards, because there is still an almost certain risk of associating with the canned hunting industry.
The murky industry
The most pressing threat is the canned hunting industry, spiralling out of control, tarnishing Africa’s tourism industry and risking the livelihood of African citizens. Canned hunting must be stopped. In such a corrupted industry, where very few hands can stay clean, the cost of long-term research at this moment in time might be too high. But, by the time we eliminate the canned lion hunting industry, what if there are no wild lions left? Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, especially when going down one path comes at the expense of another. We have created seemingly impossible circumstances for our lion populations to continue to live in, and even ending the canned hunting industry is only the beginning.
For more than a decade, South Africa has been actively supporting and growing the international trade in big cat bones, despite local and international outrage and condemnation from conservation and protection organisations, lion scientists, and experts.
In 2017, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, controversially, and in the face of vociferous opposition and robust arguments against this trade, set the annual export quota at 800 lion skeletons. Even more alarmingly, Molewa, without stakeholder participation, took the incomprehensible decision to almost double the quota in 2018 to 1,500 skeletons.
An Overview of the Breeding of Lions for Hunting and Bone Trade
The rapid expansion of commercial lion breeding and canned hunting industries, particularly in South Africa, is a cause for real concern.
From small beginnings a decade or so ago, there may now be as many as 8,000 lions and other predators spread across more than 200 captive breeding facilities, many languishing in poor conditions. These animals are unashamedly exploited for profit by their captors at every stage of their often short lives.
Cubs are removed within a few days of birth in order to bring their mothers back into breeding condition quickly, and to provide unwitting tourists with cute photo props and misguided volunteers with cubs to hand-rear in the mistaken belief that they are genuine orphans and that, one day, they are destined to be returned to the wild. As the animals grow, they are used for other tourist activities such as ‘walking with lions’.
The ultimate fate for many of these unfortunate animals is to be shot in a ‘canned hunt’ by a paying ‘hunter’, usually from overseas, to be killed so their body parts can be exported to Asian markets, or to be cycled back into the
Africa’s lions are facing a new threat from Asia – the lion bone trade. The end for the Lion King. And it appears that South Africa’s captive lion breeding industry may be supplying lion bones and could ultimately fuel demand. We investigate the newest wildlife commodity – one which could compromise Africa’s wild lion populations forever.
Africa’s lions are in trouble. The species has declined tremendously over the past 45 – 50 years on the continent. Numbers are dropping from almost half a million to between an estimated 20 000 individuals in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UK-based NGO Panthera, lions have vanished from 90% of their historic range. There are now a mere seven African countries believed to hold more than 1 000 lions.
The report might be from 2012, but it contains the complete history how the captive Lion market developed and how the breeding farms gained momentum.
Africa’s lions are in trouble
But another, new threat faces Africa’s lions that may indicate the end of the Lion King. As with the rhino, this is fuelled by the burgeoning Asian demand for wildlife products – in this case, lion bones. South Africa appears to be at the centre of this new trade. CITES records and statistics released in 2011 by the South African DEA indicate that trade in lion bones began in 2009. In 2009 lion carcasses were first recorded as having been exported to Laos. According to a March 2011 blog by the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH), 92 lion carcasses were exported to Laos in 2009. This jumped to 235 carcasses in 2010, representing an increase of 150%. This constitutes a significant injection into the Asian trade in wild cat parts and derivatives. That is likely to increase demand for lion parts. Not just those from captive-bred sources in South Africa but from all sources throughout the rest of Africa too. Indeed the leap is strongly indicative evidence that this perceived/potential increase in demand is already well underway.
Bones of Contention – A Report by TRAFFIC International and WildCRU
Bones of Contention is an assessment of the South African trade in African Lion bones and other body parts.
In the 1990s, images of Tigers Panthera tigris on some manufactured Chinese medicines were replaced with Lions Panthera leo. This lead to suspicions that parts from Tigers were being substituted with Lions. In 2005, evidence emerged that African Lion bones were indeed being substituted for Tiger in “bone strengthening wine”. The presence of Lion derivatives in “tiger” products was confirmed.
“Anger over lion bones sales” was the first South African newspaper headline in December 2009. It is important to realize the proclaiming the existence of a legal trade in African Lion bones to supply the substitute “tiger bone” market in East-Southeast Asia.
AN ANALYSIS OF THE LION BREEDING INDUSTRY IN SOUTH AFRICA published in the Africa Geographic Stories Issue 8 – 22 Aug 2014.
A wild lion is a scrappy thing. A fierce, dishevelled, fly-bitten beast with battle scars from nose to tail and a matted, grimy mane. This is a rug you don’t want on your living room floor. But the beast has been cleaned up and rebranded in one of the greatest wildlife marketing stunts of all time. Since humans painted them on a cave wall in France 30,000 years ago, lions have populated our imagination. Despite being extinct in Britain and Europe for thousands of years, they have grown in stature through myths and legends.
Tens of centuries ago, kings and conquerors of Britain and Europe adopted the mighty lion as their symbol on military shields, tunics and crests, a form of marketing if you will: Look on us in awe. Use of the symbol eventually extended to the nobility who displayed lions “rampant” and fierce, often human-like, clutching axes and swords or wearing crowns.
This letter was sent to Minister Edna Molewa by CACH UK upfront to the planned colloquium in August 2018
“How the DEA is sabotaging the SA Department of Tourism:
Everyone knows that lion breeding and canned lion hunting in South Africa has attracted significant international criticism and that this has increasingly damaged South Africa’s image abroad. Yet your Department spends millions every year trying to promote tourism here.
What you, and in particular your colleagues in other departments, may be less well aware of is the sheer scale of the overseas reaction. When you see the extent of the damage to SA brand image, you will be shocked.
To demonstrate this, retired lawyer David Nash of Campaign Against Canned Hunting ( CACH) UK has prepared the attached review. It lists the huge range of import bans, airline trophy bans, negative press coverage, anti-canned hunting campaigns, protest marches, tourist industry views and social media criticism. Once you read this important research, you will clearly see how Min Edna Molewa’s DEA is undermining your efforts.
Further, the damage to Brand SA adversely impacts Responsible Tourism – the fastest growing sector of the global tourism industry.
Hunting PR, swallowed by the DEA and other SA conservation structures, claims that canned hunting is essential to the South African economy.
CACH strongly disagrees: rather than benefiting the South African economy, captive lion breeding and canned hunting is a wasteful use of land and significantly limits employment and up-skilling opportunities when compared with other forms of farming and ethical wildlife tourism.
This Review demonstrates a clear economic case for banning lion farming (through a managed phasing out) and canned lion hunting.”
You can view and download the 50-page report HERE.
South Africa’s unregulated captive lion breeding industry will shortly be reviewed by the Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs in a two day hearing open to the public.
According to the Committee chairperson, Mohlopi Mapulane, the aim of the event is to facilitate a constructive debate around the future of captive lion breeding and hunting in SA. A colloquium titled ‘Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country’ will take place on 21 and 22 August, giving stakeholders from across the board an opportunity to present arguments for and against captive breeding of lions.
“There is an outcry, and we must find a way to address it as soon as possible,” Mapulane says. “What is worrying is how this issue is affecting SA’s standing internationally. We cannot allow [captive lion breeding] to blemish our internationally-acclaimed wildlife and conservation record.”
A report published by UK-based Born Free Foundation in March backs up Mapulane’s fears over SA’s waning reputation as an international wildlife and conservation pioneer, illustrating how the captive breeding of lions for hunting and their bones has detracted from SA’s conservation status.
Mapulane says the committee will “put a spotlight on the [captive breeding] practice, to better understand the different views that exist.” Following the discussions, the committee will decide whether to review and/or amend legislation, or whether they would have to initiate new legislation through parliament.
Last year, the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary welcomed 33 new lions to its arid expanse in northern South Africa. The arrivals, all former circus performers in Peru and Colombia, had been flown across the globe to live out their lives in a habitat foreign to them but natural to their species. Among them were Jose and Liso, two middle-aged cats that were given a shared enclosure because they seemed to adore each other.
The pair’s refuge was short-lived. Last week, poachers breached fences and evaded armed guards, then fatally poisoned Jose and Liso, skinned them and removed their heads, tails and paws.