Today in Africa, there are approximately 32 000 lions. 11 000 of those are found in South Africa. That’s the good news. The bad news is that approximately 8 000 of those are in breeding captivity. To further the bad news, of those 3 000 that remain in the wild, approximately 2 500 are diseased: they carry feline AIDS or TB, both of which are easily transferred and are virtually impossible to eradicate.
Most of these captive predators live in appalling conditions with inadequate protocols in place to protect them or regulate either their welfare or the genetic integrity of their bloodlines. The breeders of these animals claim they are involved in conservation, educational and research initiatives and that the captive-bred population will be the saviour of wild lions. However, recognised and respected lion ecologists, conservationists and animal welfare experts advise that almost all of these claims are, in fact, far from the truth.
Desperate to make a contribution and passionate to save the lion, young volunteers sign up for programmes where they can come to South Africa and nurture these ‘abandoned’ cubs. After all, who can resist adorably cute cub lions which are only a few weeks old? What would be more appealing than coming to South Africa on a volunteer programme to bottle-feed and cuddle these cubs, under the misapprehension of ‘helping and saving the lion’? In reality, what is happening is that these cubs are taken away from their mothers just days after birth to force the lionesses into intensely repetitive reproductive cycles. In the wild, a cub lives with its mother for two years.
Breeders squeeze as many cubs from their adults as possible, five litters every two years. These cubs are then used in a variety of income streams from petting and ‘walking with lions’ facilities, to luring unsuspecting volunteers, who pay large sums of money, to work on the farms. These animals are being factory produced to feed the volunteer tourism industry. It is a massive con.
Breeders argue it is better that hunters shoot a captive-bred lion than further endanger the wild populations, but conservationists and animal welfare groups dispute this. Wild populations of lions have declined by 80 percent in 20 years, so the rise of lion farms and canned hunting has not protected wild lions. In fact, according to Fiona Miles, Director of Lionsrock, a big cat sanctuary in South Africa run by the charity Four Paws, it is fuelling it. “The lion farms’ creation of a market for canned lion hunts puts a clear price-tag on the head of every wild lion,” she says. “They create a financial incentive for local people, who collude with poachers or turn a blind eye to illegal lion kills. Trophy-hunters who begin with a captive-bred lion may then graduate to the real, wild thing.”
Once they reach adulthood, many lionesses are shot for their bones to be shipped to Asia as supplements to the rapidly burgeoning ‘tiger wine’ and ‘tiger cake’ industries. Almost all the male lions become victims of the ‘canned’ or ‘captive’ hunting industry: a so-called sport, where tame lions become targets in the sights of wealthy trophy hunters.
A fully-grown, captive-bred lion is taken from its enclosure to an area of limited size: the lion is not in the wild and knows nothing about survival, as he has been hand raised in captivity. He will wander listlessly for a short time before being shot dead by a hunter with a gun, standing safely on the back of a truck or shooting from very close range. These men and women pay anything from US$5 000 – $48 000 for a trophy in order to shoot the king of beasts in circumstances which are anything but wild or sporting. And it is all completely legal.
Tourists from all over the world flock to South Africa for sightings of the Big Five and a host of other wildlife in the country’s many reserves. Millions of photographs and hundreds of thousands of happy visitors attest to the ongoing allure of the African wilderness, but for those that visit the private farms, have they been conned? There is darkness at the heart of this picture, something is rotten in the country’s wildlife kingdom and it is the king himself who is in the crosshairs!
In 2007 the South African Government attempted to regulate captive lion breeding and canned hunting by passing new legislation in parliament. The Predator Breeders Association of SA took the government to court, and while they lost the first ruling, their appeal was upheld and the proposed legislation was overturned on a technicality.
Since that landmark decision, the predator breeding and canned lion hunting industries have thrived.
BLOOD LIONS THE MOVIE
Blood Lions™ was recently launched at the Durban International Film Festival and follows internationally acclaimed environmental journalist and safari operator, Ian Michler, onto the breeding farms to witness the results of battery-farmed lions, a stark contrast to their wild cousins.
Aggressive farmers resent his questioning, but the highly profitable commercialisation of lions is plain to see: cub petting, volunteer recruitment, lion walking, hunting, and the new lion bone trade are on the increase, and all are being justified under the guise of conservation and research.
In parallel, the movie follows Rick Swazey, an American hunter, who volunteered his services after seeing footage of canned hunts. Rick purchases a lioness online from his home in Hawaii and then travels to South Africa to go on the path canned hunters follow: to kill it.
Blood Lions™ explores in intimate detail how lucrative it is to breed lions for the bullet. It illustrates how the authorities and most professional hunting bodies have become complicit and how simple it is to set up a canned hunt. There is also hope in the story, as the very latest developments with the Australian government are shown, announcing a complete ban on the importation of all African lion trophies into Australia. The film is a compelling call to action and shows how one can get involved in a global campaign to stop lions being bred for the bullet.
Executive producer Dr Andrew Venter, CEO Wildlands, says, “Lions are one of our planet’s iconic species. Their dominance, strength and leadership abilities anchor cultural tradition across Africa, Europe and Asia. Their behaviour and spirit are revered in song and dance globally. They are a primary attraction for Africa’s eco-tourism industry. Simply put, they epitomise Africa’s wildness.”
He makes the point: “Unfortunately, in South Africa the greed of a small group of tourism and hunting operators is downgrading their status to that of a simple tradable commodity.”
“These unethical operators are actively deceiving our Government, and the hunters and tourists that they host.
They are prostituting lions for their own benefit whilst promoting their activities as conservation efforts. This is simply not true; their activities are unethical, fraudulent and corrupt. Harnessing the volunteer tourism industry to enable the breeding of lions for hunting is a con. Hunting captive-bred lions that are drugged and have never roamed or socialised in the wild, is a con. They need to be stopped.”
Blood Lions™ will help do this, exposing the rotten core of the lion industry in South Africa and will lay a foundation for an effective campaign aimed at ending these activities. Pippa Hankinson, producer of Blood Lions, concludes: “Many people have asked me what made me decide to make this film. There were a number of reasons, animals in general, but our wildlife in particular, have always mattered to me. However, Martin Luther King Jr best summed it up for me when he said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.”
The campaign will form a cohesive and powerful motivation for all those determined to put an end to the breeding of lions purely for the bullet. It will provide information, direction and a constant monitoring of the progress of the efforts of everyone involved. It is aimed at the general public, both local and international, who believe that what is happening on the breeding and hunting farms is simply not right. It will also target government agencies and lawmakers, tourism bodies, ecologists, conservationists and all media. It will provide leadership for all those who seek to change the status quo.