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Canned Hunting

What is "canned lion hunting"?

 South Africa is an extremely popular tourist destination for both nature lovers and hunters. Every year thousands of hunters from Europe and the U.S. travel to the region to participate in “trophy hunting,” from which hunters bring home dead animals as trophies to display on their walls as souvenirs. Nearly all wild species are available for trophy hunting – even protected species like elephants – it is just a question of money.

Born to be killed: Lion hunting in South Africa

The most extreme and particularly shameful form of trophy hunting is “canned hunting.” With canned hunting, the typically captive bred animals are in a fenced area with no chance of escape. They may be lured out into the open with bait (food often hung from a tree) or even sedated with drugs, all to guarantee the kill for the hunter.


In South Africa, most of the victims of canned hunting are captive African lions whose life of suffering begins shortly after birth. There, hunters from overseas are given easy prey in the form of lions bred solely for the purpose of being killed. There are an estimated 7,000-9,000 captive lions in South Africa. Bred on over 200 farms, lions are raised by hand and hardly demonstrate any shyness or fear of humans. In South Africa there are actually more lions in captivity than in the wild.


Anyone can go and hunt lions in South Africa – a hunting license or proven hunting experience isn’t usually necessary. This means that many lions aren’t killed by the first shot, which results in them experiencing a slow and agonizing death.


In many cases the hunt isn’t carried out on the same farm where the animal was bred and raised. Instead, the lions are transported to other enclosed hunting grounds and shot there; around 1,000 captive lions are killed by trophy hunts each year. Most of the breeding farms and hunting reserves in South Africa are located in the provinces of Free State, North West, and Limpopo. In order to offer hunters special trophies some farms even breed and offer tigers for hunting, even though the animal isn’t indigenous to South Africa.


Sadly, canned hunting has become a popular hobby for a well-off minority from rich industrial nations. Complete hunting packages, which include the “support” of professional hunters as well as room and board, are offered on the internet, at hunting trade fairs, or through specialized travel agencies.  A fully grown, captive-bred male lion with a magnificent mane can cost over $30,000, while lions with particularly dark, thick manes can go for over $55,000. Lionesses can be purchased for $6,000 or less, and on some farms it is even possible to shoot lion cubs.

The Lion Breeding Industry

There are currently an estimated 7,000-8,000 lions in over 200 breeding farms across South Africa – 50% more compared to the number of captive lions in 2010 – and this is where the suffering begins.


In the wild, lionesses have a litter of cubs once every two years. On the farms, they are forced to produce a litter every six months. Usually the young cubs are taken away from their mother within days after their birth; the lionesses are ready to conceive again very shortly after they have lost their cubs and are instantly mated again to continue the painful cycle.


The lionesses are plagued with the trauma of losing their cubs and their health suffers due to the unnatural frequency of breeding. Because they are giving birth more often than they would be doing under natural conditions, the lionesses become drained and weak after only a few years. It is therefore not rare for drained or small lionesses to end up being “special offers” for hunters.


The health of the cubs suffers as well. Being raised by hand at the breeding stations without milk from their mothers leads to massive deficiencies in the cubs, often resulting in debilitating bone deformations, respiratory and thyroid problems, digestive disorders, calcium deficiencies, and many other illnesses, the results of which have a significant effect on the animals when they grow up. The housing conditions for the young animals are often completely unacceptable: water, food, and shade are hard to come by in many of the enclosures. In the most extreme cases, female cubs are shot shortly after their birth as they are rarely in demand for hunting.


The frequently ill cubs are then exploited as tourist attractions. The stress brought on by constant contact with humans and the poor living conditions can lead to behavioral disorders as well as dangerous accidents in which people are being attacked and injured by young lions.

First pat...

Throughout South Africa, unwitting tourists visit breeding farms where they are offered the opportunity to cuddle and interact with lion cubs and even take them for walks. By paying for these activities, tourists unknowingly support the inhumaneness of forced lion breeding and the canned hunting industry.


Even some volunteer work programs support this cruel business. Visitors from Europe and the U.S. are often attracted to the breeding farms as volunteers to help hand-raise the lions. It’s not rare for these volunteers to pay a lot of money for a six week stay in a so-called “rescue station” or a “game reserve.”


However these offers have nothing to do with the protection of species or animals. The young lions suffer on these farms. Despite their best intentions, the money paid by volunteers to raise lion cubs and work with lions fuels this terrible trade and the steady stream of lions made available for canned hunting continue to be bred under the guise of conservation.

...then shoot

After four to seven years, the lions reach the desired trophy age and are offered to hunters for shooting. Since the breeding farms don’t disclose their true intentions as to why they have the cubs, nor why there is a need to nurture them, volunteers are essentially contributing to raising the cubs just so they can be shot once they reach maturity.


The lion breeders falsely describe themselves as “nature conservationists” and claim to tourists and volunteers that the animals are being bred to be later released into the wild. This is obvious misinformation. Predators that are born in captivity, especially when they have been raised by hand, cannot be successfully released into the wild.


Generally, the sad end destination of captive lions in South Africa is a canned hunting farm. Anyone doing volunteer work or gaining work experience at these farms is supporting the horrific lion industry – even if they don’t intend to or realize that they are doing so.

Danger for Wild Lions

The supporters of lion breeding farms and canned hunting claim that both practices serve to protect the species. In fact the opposite is the case: while the number of trophy hunting tours and captive bred lions increases, the number of wild lions continues to decrease to estimates of less than 20,000 lions left living in the wild in all of Africa. Further pressure is placed on the wild populations by breeding farms, as an increasing number of wild lions are captured to help overcome genetic problems caused by severe selective breeding and inbreeding on the farms.


The escalating lion bone trade also poses a serious threat to wild lion populations. Euthanizing healthy lions and tigers for their bones is legal in South Africa with a permit, and the selling of lion bones to Asia for use in traditional medicine products has become an important and lucrative side business for South African lion farmers. However, as the trend for using lion bones in place of illegal tiger bones in products increases, the demand for and monetary value of wild lion bones intensifies because of the perceived medicinal quality differences between wild and captive animal bones.


With only 3,500 tigers left in the wild, it is clear that the massive demand for traditional medicine in Asia can have an enormous pressure on wildlife populations. Behind this background, the legal trade with lion bones poses an enormous risk to put further pressure on wild ranging lion populations. 


FOUR PAWS believes that based on existing research and the implications of unethical welfare standards, lion hunting should be banned entirely. Therefore, we encourage importing countries to establish national bans that will reduce the number of lion trophy products and support the view that trophy hunting industries do not contribute to modern sustainable environmental solutions. CITES also needs to develop firmer labeling and certification schemes in order to effectively regulate trade. In the meantime, the future populations of lions will rely on the countries that are willing to establish further restrictions. 


FOUR PAWS operates the big cat sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa on a 3,000 acre site. At LIONSROCK, FOUR PAWS provides a lifelong home for over 90 big cats rescued from terrible conditions. This includes lions rescued from both breeding and hunting farms; they have been spared a gruesome end as a trophy to be hung on a hunter's wall. At LIONSROCK, our rescued big cats will never be sold, bred, or hunted and will live the remainder of their lives in a safe and natural environment that is free from distress and suffering.


Ways to help

-Refuse to visit any breeding or hunting farms.

-Avoid tourist attractions in which young animals are exposed to direct contact with humans.

-Inform your travel agent, friends, and family about South Africa’s lion industry’s background and canned hunting.

-Be careful in the choice of jobs, work experience, and volunteer opportunities in South Africa. Make sure that you are not giving your support to institutions that raise lions and other animals by hand for commercial purposes.

-Donate today to help FOUR PAWS outlaw canned hunting.