Until such time as the voice of the lion is heard, history will be written to glorify the hunter – African proverb
I like lions. In fact, I love lions. As a little girl I wanted to be a lion. I would have this recurring dream that I was part of a pride of lions living in my backyard. My favourite movie, still to this day, is the Lion King. Simba was my first crush (Yep!) and I wanted to name any pet I had after a Lion King character As you can see, lions are kind of a big deal for me. So when I learned about canned hunting a couple years back, you can imagine my reaction. My blood boiled with anger, disgust and contempt for mankind.
What is canned hunting?
Canned hunting is a growing multinational industry worth millions of dollars. It is essentially a trophy hunt. Wild animals, who are born and bred in captivity, are killed in confined enclosures where there is little to no chance of escape. This ensures the hunter a kill: a kill in a can basically. Just to reiterate, there is a difference between canned hunting and fair chase hunting. Fair chase hunting refers to the traditional form of trophy hunting, where professional hunters and their companions hunt in wilderness areas large enough for free-ranging animals to have a chance of escape. These hunts can take up to 21 days, whereas canned hunts can be done in a little as 48 hours. Just like everything today in the modern world: faster – faster food, faster shipping, and now, faster hunting.
A new, controversial documentary is unveiling the murky world of canned hunting and lion breeding. Blood Lions follows acclaimed environmentalist journalist and safari operator Ian Michler, and Rick Swazey an American hunter as they uncover the truth of the canned hunting and predator breeding industries in South Africa. I went along to the Sydney premiere at the University of Technology back in early September and had the pleasure of listening to Ian Michler speak about the film. What disgusts him the most about the whole canned hunting phenomenon, is that we (mankind) have taken this magnificent, apex predator and destroyed the animal’s very image – powerful, regal and free. Lions bred in captivity are tame, human-imprinted and genetically contaminated – crowded enclosures destroy social structure and genetic integrity (many of the lions are inbred). In essence, they are not true lions and this is what Ian Michler was trying to communicate – 100 years ago, we referred to lions as lions, but now we much say “wild” lions.
The film brings to light the link between cub petting and canned hunting, one of which many are unaware of. It has been a dream of mine to hold, cuddle and play with a lion cub – until I learned the dark truth about cub petting. Cub petting is merely a lucrative revenue stream, to lure volunteers and visitors into paying the lion farmer significant sums of money to raise lions that are likely to be killed in canned hunts. Cubs are taken away from their mothers within the first week after birth and are then rented out or used to lure day visitors and volunteers. Once the cubs get to about four months old, they are then often used in ‘walking with lions’ programmes. Once adult, many will be sold to breeders and collectors, or they end up being killed for the lion bone trade (traditional Chinese medicine) or in canned hunts.
None of these lions are used in conservation projects. There is no conservation value in captive bred lions as researchers use wild lions.
Against the animal’s rights
Canned hunting, lion breeding and cub petting are all issues of animal welfare. To hunt a lion that is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter, whether that is through physical constraints, e.g. hunted in fenced enclosures, or through mental constraints, such as being habituated to humans, is incredibly unethical.
Cub petting is more unethical than you think. Cubs are torn from their mothers, denying them of their mother’s nourishment and care. This forces the lioness to come into heat earlier and this is detrimental for her health – lioness’s are not made to produce 2-3 litters of cubs a year. Cub petting is physically and psychologically detrimental to the cub. They are denied their mother’s milk and their replacement diet is never enough to nourish them. The constant touching and playing with them by tourists causes stress – they lose condition, they lose their hair, they have bouts of diarrhoea and they never have the constant care of a mother.
There is thought to be 200 legal farms and breeding facilities in South Africa, holding somewhere between 6 000 and 8 000 predators in captivity. The living conditions vary from breeder to breeder but some are just appalling – small enclosures, little shade, sometimes the water is undrinkable and the meat is foul – it is costly to feed hundreds of lions, therefore the meat is cheap.
If canned hunting and predator breeding were to be stopped… if it were possible, what would the South African government do with 6000+ lions? It would be terribly costly to feed and shelter the animals and lion conservationists warn that captive bred lions are not suitable for reintroduction programs. Would they have to be euthanised? Possibly. This is why the canned hunting industry must be stopped before it gets out of hand!
Above all, these lions are denied their right to be a lion – they are denied every wild instinct, denied vast plains to live as a wild lion does. If humans replaced lions in this scenario, it would be worst than the Holocaust.
Through online campaigning, sharing articles on my Facebook and Twitter accounts and designing the hashtag #cubtotrophykill, I hope to alert people, young people in particular as they tend to go on these volunteering programs, the link between cub petting and canned hunting.
For more information on canned hunting, SBS Dateline Canned Hunting investigated the issue.