At the tender and very naive age of 22/23 I was 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 basically afforded 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 now in 2013 there are several 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.
Now at face value this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. Mostly, the cubs seem to be cared for, get access to veterinary care and tourists enjoy a cuddle and a cool picture that they can later post on all the social media sites known to mankind. 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. It’s known as ‘Canned Hunting’.
In 1998 there were around 2500 lions in captivity. In 2013 there is difficulty in obtaining exact numbers as many operations are very secretive about the number of lions they house, even though its 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 6000 and 7000 in my opinion, most of which are destined for the ‘Canned Hunting’ industry.
Let’s explain a little about it:
In 1997 a television investigative journalism program based in the UK did an exposé on ‘canned hunting’, known as ‘The Cooke Report’. The Journalist went undercover and filmed a captive raised lioness being shot from a vehicle next to a fence whilst her cubs watched from the other side of the fence, 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’ by some organizations and government was implored to do something about.
They did try and half-heartedly introduced some very bizarre measures to try and make the whole process of ‘Canned Hunting’ seem humane by introducing a ‘wilding’ period before captive lions could be hunted. The Minister of Environment was subsequently taken to court by the Predator Breeders Association of South Africa and they won their case on the basis that hunting captive lions was a closed system and that they contributed zero to lion conservation. In addition that the Minister of Environment really didn’t have any jurisdiction over this and that this actually fell into the lap of the Minister of Agriculture, which as we know is responsible for managing all our livestock in South Africa.
Yes, that’s how we are starting to see lions in South Africa, simply as alternative livestock. Not the iconic predator belonging to the big five that so many people flock from around the globe to see.
But what people seem to miss is the link between petting a cub and the ultimate shooting of that same lion in a ‘Canned Hunt’.
You see that’s why I said earlier, if you start scratching around, you begin to see the more sinister side of cub petting, something which on its own doesn’t seem so bad.
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 guides will tell you they go to. They also definitely don’t repopulate wilderness areas as others would have you believe and if they do, where are these lion paradises? They land up being sold at a premium to farms that are in some way or another connected to ‘Canned Hunting’.
So in other words, today's much loved cute pet is tomorrows trophy and the poor unsuspecting tourists have blood on their hands; and are literally part of the process of ‘Canned Hunting’ unwittingly, because they have been hoodwinked into believing that their contribution of funds is somehow going to some conservation cause. ‘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 cute cuddly cub.