The question one needs to ask is, what ultimately happens to all the hundreds, if not thousands of cubs that are too old and dangerous to be petted by general public? What happens to lions once they are too old to walk safely with? Certainly not all can land up in reputable Zoos or Game Reserves?
CAPTIVITY & CANNED HUNTING
At the young and very naive age of 22/23 I started working with lions in captivity. The facility where I started working was pretty revolutionary in the 60’s when it opened, as it seemed to be a pretty good compromise between the wild and captivity at a time when only an elite handful could afford to go to the national parks like, The Kruger National Park. It gave people who couldn’t afford to go to Kruger or who simply didn’t have enough time, the opportunity to drive in their own car around a reserve which had different prides of lions in areas of up to 5 hectares. It made for good photo opportunities and was extremely accessible from the Johannesburg area.
The park also offered the opportunity to pet a cub or let tourists have their photo taken with a cub which obviously enhanced the experience. Back in the 60’s there weren’t too many parks like this. However these days there are literally hundreds of parks like this, many of which offer cubs for the public to pet, because if they don’t, they lose their competitive advantage and patrons will simply go somewhere else where it is offered. At face value cub petting doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Mostly, the cubs seem to be cared for (because why would you have people interact with a sick or unhealthy looking animal), get access to veterinary care and tourists enjoy a cuddle and a cool picture or selfie that they can post on all their social media sites. Seems like a win, win situation.
However, if one starts to just scratch a bit deeper, things emerge about this sinister industry that will make any animal lovers hair stand on end. Many of the cubs are overworked, get tired and are irritable with being poked and prodded. This is at a time in their lives, where just like puppies or kittens, they should be sleeping a large portion of the day. Those that look ill or those cubs which are particularly ‘unfriendly’, get put behind the scenes, off display or even sold off.
Once the cubs reach around 6 months old they are generally deemed too dangerous for close interaction and photo opportunities and are then used in the ‘walking with lions’ activity which has become common place in many of these facilities. The ‘walking with’ experience will last until the cub reaches 20 or so months depending on the individuals personality, afterwhich the juvenile animals no longer have an immediate cash value. They are either put in enclosures that are more than often over stocked to grow into adult specimens or sold on for a cheaper price at the age of 20 months to dealers or hunting farms.
In 1998 there were around 2500 lions in captivity. Today there is difficulty in obtaining exact numbers as many operations are very secretive about the number of lions they house, even though it’s law to let the permit issuing authorities know. It should be a simple exercise of phoning Nature Conservation and asking. The number is anywhere between 8 000 and 10 000 in my opinion, most of which are destined for the ‘canned hunting’ industry.
In the late 90’s, a television investigative journalism program based in the UK did an exposé on ‘canned hunting’, known as ‘The Cook Report’. The Journalist, Roger Cook, went undercover posing as a hunter, with the intention to film a ‘canned lion’ hunt. Before pulling the trigger he revealed to the people involved who he was and what he was doing. A scuffle ensued but luckily the tv crew and the team managed to get away unscathed.
The piece was later aired and footage emerged that was secretly filmed on another farm of a lioness being shot from a vehicle next to a fence whilst her cubs watched from the other side, isolated from getting to her. This naturally caused an uproar and upset even the most hardened non animal lover. It was dubbed a ‘National Disgrace’ and government was implored to do something about.
The then minister of environmental affairs and tourism did try introduce some very bizarre measures to try and make the whole process of ‘canned hunting’ seem more ethical and humane by introducing a 24 month ‘wilding’ period before captive lions could be hunted. The South African Predator Breeders Association (SAPA) took the Minister to court on the matter and period of ‘rewilding’. The court ruled in favour of the Minister and what seemed like a victory for lions was short lived as the decision was taken on appeal and heard on the 4th of November 2010.
The Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in the Predator Breeders favour on the 29th of November 2010, stopping the implementation of certain changes to legislation in terms of the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations more specifically that captive bred lions would remain being ‘canned hunted’. Todate the issue of ‘canned hunting’ is still around but what people seem to miss is the link between petting a cub and the ultimate shooting of that same lion in a so called ‘canned hunt’.
The first question one needs to ask is, what ultimately happens to all the hundreds, if not thousands of cubs that are too old and dangerous to be petted by general public? What happens to lions once they are too old to walk safely with? Certainly not all can land up in reputable zoos around the world or game farms in South Africa that most petting facilities will tell you they go to. They also definitely don’t repopulate wilderness areas as others would have you believe. There simply aren’t any areas suitable for captive lions that aren’t already populated by wild lions. They land up being sold at a premium to farms that are in some way or another connected to the ‘canned hunting’ industry.
Today’s lion cub, becomes tomorrows trophy and the unsuspecting tourists have blood on their hands. They are unwittingly part of the process of ‘canned hunting’, because they have been hoodwinked into believing that their contribution of funds is going into lion conservation.
‘Canned hunting’ isn’t a single event of a pseudo hunter shooting a lion in a situation whereby the lion has been ear marked and stands no chance of fair escape, it’s a process starting with the petting of a lion cub.