I was disturbed recently when I watched an episode of a popular South Africa investigative journalism series documenting something I had never been aware of: canned hunting. I don't know what troubled me more; the fact that it was actually taking place or that I had never heard of it before! Even more recently, of course, was the controversial Melissa Bachman's lion hunt, which sparked outrage amongst animal lovers and, ironically, got people talking and spreading awareness.
Canned hunting is a form of "trophy hunting" whereby an animal is raised and groomed by people and later sold to trophy hunters who proceed to "hunt" the animal within a confined enclosure where there is no way for it to escape. What bugs me is that everyone I've spoken to about canned hunting has had no inkling that it was happening or even what it was.
The reason for my horror specifically is the fact that this "sport" is taking place in SA - and hunters are targeting lions, our beautiful big five "king of the jungle". It has been reported that many organisations and game reserves claiming to offer the opportunity to "pet a lion" or "play with a lion cub" are involved in the canned lion hunting trade. The sad part is that many of the clientele who visit these organisations are actually being tricked into taming these majestic creatures so that they no longer fear people. It has even been reported that some organisations offer international tourists the opportunity to volunteer as an adoptive parent to lion cubs under the guise that the cubs' mother has abandoned them or been killed. These volunteers then reportedly pay the organisation to come and live in SA and rear the cubs, unknowingly participating in what will inevitably become the animal's demise.
Most breeders apparently remove the cubs from the lioness very early so that she will go back into heat and be able to conceive another litter sooner. The Lion Den website reports that "If a litter is lost, females will return to oestrus (the reproductive cycle begins again) within as little as a week and can reproduce again, but mothers whose cubs survive only begin to breed again after their cubs reach 18 months of age." This cruel method is used in order to breed as many cubs as possible and secure a greater profit for breeders. Some breeders manage to breed up to five litters in two years, according to the guardian. The consequences, however, are that the lion cubs do not receive adequate nutrition and often do not develop properly, or develop deficiencies that can lead to deformity and even death as they miss out on crucial colostrum (first milk).
The numbers tell the tale
In South Africa the number of lions held in captivity (more than 5000) is more than double the number currently living in the wild (approximately 2000), and most breeders sell their stock to trophy hunters and traditional medicine-makers in Asia for a handsome profit, reports The Guardian.
According to The Guardian, a wild lion shot on a safari in Tanzania may cost GBP50,000, compared with a GBP5,000 captive-bred specimen in South Africa, a price that most certainly attracts the interest of many, many trophy hunters.
The Guardian goes on to report that, five years ago, the South African government effectively banned canned hunting by requiring an animal to roam free for two years before it could be hunted, severely restricting breeders' and hunters' profitability. But lion breeders challenged the policy in South Africa's courts and a high court judge eventually ruled that such restrictions were "not rational". The number of trophy hunted animals has since soared. In the five years to 2006, 1830 lion trophies were exported from South Africa; in the five years to 2011, 4062 were exported, a 122% increase, and the vast majority captive-bred animals.
Another article published by National Geographic shockingly reveals that there may be as few as 32,000 lions left in the wild and that African lions are the only big cat not currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Impact on non-consumptive tourism
Now, there may be some optimists out there who think that the up side of this "trade" is the money it is bringing into the country - unfortunately you are sadly mistaken. Canned hunting as sport brings in money, sure, but it is nothing in comparison to the huge amount that South Africa gains from our tourism sector. And what do tourists want to see? Wild animals, of course - lions especially, I would imagine. So not only is canned hunting inhumane and unnatural, it is detrimental to our economy too. South Africa's wildlife is a major form of non-consumptive tourism that brings in billions each year, so if our wild animals disappear so does this income. And, yes, I know that canned hunting is not the same as hunting in the wild, so the one shouldn't affect the other, but the problem is that it does - trophy hunting puts a price and desire on the head of the wild animal, which increases instances of poaching and hunting illegally. Many trophy huntsmen often escalate from canned hunting to hunting in the wild in order to prove their craftsmanship. How do I know? The numbers pretty much speak for themselves.
The subject of canned hunting was unknown to me up until a few months ago, and I'm guilty of being ignorant of the fact that this was happening under my very own nose, but from the moment I discovered the truth about this trade I haven't been able to stop thinking or talking about it. I feel better knowing that I've played a part in making more people aware, but don't let it end here - we're already facing the extinction of the rhino, let's not allow the same fate to meet our glorious African lion.
Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to. - Alfred A Montapert
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