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 African lions and elephants – it is just a question of money.
The most extreme form of trophy hunting is known as "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 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, wealthy 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 to 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.
First pet… then shoot
Before becoming a trophy, the lions are bred and raised on breeding farms. On these farms, cubs are quickly removed from their mothers and used as photo props for tourists or raised by volunteers who mistakenly believe they are contributing to the conservation of lions in the wild. The cubs are frequently ill due to stress brought on by constant contact with humans, poor nutrition, and terrible living conditions, which can lead to behavioral disorders as well as dangerous interactions with the public.
By participating and paying for these activities – like cub petting or taking walks with lions – volunteers and tourists unknowingly support the inhumaneness of forced lion breeding and the canned hunting industry.
After four to seven years, the lions reach the desired trophy age and are offered elsewhere to hunters for shooting. 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. Lions can be hunted with rifles or crossbows, and on some farms it is even possible to shoot lion cubs.
With so many lions in captivity many breeders have resorted to simply killing them for the escalating lion bone trade, which also poses a serious threat to wild lion populations. Euthanizing healthy captive-bred lions 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.
- A ban on canned hunting in South Africa
- An import ban on lion trophies
- The incorporation of lions in the "Threatened or Protected Species Regulation" in South Africa
- A ban on commercial lion breeding farms
- A ban on cub petting