Canned Hunting – Conservation benefits or harm?

Canned hunting

The Cook Report in 1997 - Making a Killing - lifting the lid of the cruel Canned Hunting industry
The Cook Report 1997 – Making a Killing

The definition of Canned Hunting is “a trophy hunt in which an animal is kept in a confined area, such as a fenced-in area, increasing the likelihood of the hunter obtaining a kill.” More than 20 years ago, in 1997, the findings of The Cook Report investigation were presented to the public. The British programme featured Roger Cook travelling the world to investigate serious criminal activity, injustice and official incompetence. It uncovered the inhumane practices of Canned Hunting in a diabolic segment of the trophy hunting industry. According to the report, certain lion breeders were raising lions purely for trophy hunting. South African farmers breed lions in captivity, from cubs to adults, then release them in confined spaces just before the arrival of a hunter who pays about $20,000 to 30,000 for a kill.


Canned Hunting - Lion breeding for trophy hunting - A game farm where 250 lions were bred to be shot in canned lion hunts were neglected so badly that they were starving to death.
Canned Hunting – Lion breeding for trophy hunting and bone trade

Sometimes the animal is drugged to make it easier to kill. Fresh meat is used to lure the lion to a place where the hunter lurks. The felines are so accustomed to humans that they amble up to the person waiting to kill it. Not surprisingly, the success of such a hunt is 99 %. Already in 1997, a breeder told Roger Cook: “Canned lion hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s unethical, it’s bloody easy and it’s earning a lot of people a lot of money.” *

Desperate Captive Lion Cub playing with lock - Image Credit Blood Lions
Desperate Captive Lion Cub – Image Credit Blood Lions

The biggest issue is that these lions are often inbred. They are maintained and kept in small enclosures until being hunted (this could be between five and seven years for a trophy male). Concerns are not only about the manner of death but also the conditions under which these lions were being bred, spending years in poor environments before being hunted by foreigners that want a guaranteed, low-risk and low-cost kill and a lion trophy to take home. The concept of fair chase was naturally absent from such hunts, as the Lions were unable to escape. Most of the lions that are bred in captivity are of little or no value to maintaining the populations in the wild.

No legislation

The canned hunting industry that existed in 1997 was not regulated, all that the breeders needed was a permit to breed lions in captivity. Soon the lion farmers started holding lions without permits. In South Africa, the provincial authority can override any decision made by central government and legislation is recommended to provinces, but they can implement it or not. This strange situation allowed the canned lion hunting industry to develop.

Canned Hunting - Starving Captive Lions in an Enclosure
Canned Hunting – Starving Captive Lions

“What the government then did was to hold public participation meetings with the South African public and the hunting industry. Issues discussed included whether canned hunting should be allowed to continue in South Africa and how the industry should be regulated. A panel was established to consider these issues. The panel recommended to the government that the canned hunting industry should be shut down, but permits had already been issued and breeders had spent millions developing these operations. Lion breeders began bringing legal cases against the government.

The fact remains that the industry should have been phased out if public opinion was against this form of hunting. But the government actually did not follow through and the whole process effectively became a farce. (Only) in 2004, the National Environmental Management – Biodiversity Act 10 of 2004 was passed. Part of the Act included the Threatened Or Protected Species (TOPS) Regulations, which were passed in 2007 but were only enacted from February 2008. The law effectively said that game farmers and reserve owners could continue to breed lions but the regulations do not specify things such as the size of enclosures and other issues pertaining to animal husbandry and welfare.” *

Jabula who waited in this small cage for days before being killed for his bones - Image Credit EMS Foundation
Jabula before being killed for his bones – Image Credit EMS Foundation

Sanctioned by provincial legislation, captive bred lions were placed within the realm of agriculture and not of conservation. Until today, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) and the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) point fingers on each other. In May 2018, a lion abattoir was discovered in Free State: “According to Albi Modise of the DEA‚ the department could not comment on mass-killing of lions as the welfare of these captive-bred lions fell under the mandate of the Department of Agriculture‚ Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)‚ and was therefore not the DEA’s concern. When approached on this statement‚ DAFF refused to comment and said that the lions weren’t their responsibility either‚ but rather that of the Free State Department of Economic and Small Business Development‚ Tourism and Environmental Affairs (DESTEA). DESTEA said it is responsible for the issuing of permits for captive-bred lions to be killed in the Free State‚ but that the primary responsibility of the Lions’ welfare resides with the SPCA and animal owners.”

Among the many organisations that are fighting the canned hunting industry for many years, CACH and BLOOD LIONS really stand out. CACH (Campaign Against Canned Hunting) is a global NGO dedicated to eradicating the barbaric practice of canned lion hunting, and its spin-offs. BLOOD LIONS exposes the exploitation related to unethical and insidious practices associated with wildlife interactive tourism, including cub petting and walking with lions.

Sadly the industry has many more cruel aspects. Slick breeders run two-faced businesses. Hidden to the public lions are bred for the bullet in their backyard. The front facade provides lovely lion cubs to be fed, petted and photographed by well-meaning tourists. Thousands of volunteers pay millions every year to stay at lodges to foster lions that were taken away from their mothers only days after their birth. Exploited animals are used at exhibitions, shows and at expos. When they get older, tourists pay to walk with them. Petting, feeding and walking with lions is big money for their breeders. While awareness grows and trophy hunting shrinks, the trade with lion bones exploded in the last years. Over 260 lion farms try to monetize their huge investments. Between 2008 and 2015, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) issued permits for the export of more than 5.400 lion skeletons, nearly 98% of which went to Laos and Vietnam – central hubs for illegal wildlife trafficking. In 2017, the DEA approved an export quota of 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred lions. In 2018 the quote was almost doubled to 1500 skeletons.

Colloquium at the Parliament of the Republic of SA
Colloquium at the Parliament of the Republic of SA

The publishing of several reports, like the Bones of Contention Report – 2015, the Cash Before Conservation – Born Free Report – 2018 and The Extinction Business Report – EMS and Ban Animal Trading – 2018  finally forced the government to act.

A Colloquium on Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country will take place at the 21 & 22 August 2018 in Cape Town’s parliament.

Although canned hunting has been practised (not always legally) in South Africa and neighbouring countries for many decades, sadly, it is also taking place in the United States.

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