The Daily Telegraph’s, Aislinn Laing (Johannesburg) reported yesterday(1), about the alleged deceit in ‘canned’ farms’ acquisition of lion cubs.
Conservationists have highlighted that ‘orphaned’ lion cubs, supported in ‘petting zoos’ by well-meaning sponsors (tourists) are allegedly being sold on to ‘canned’ farms once the cubs become too large for ‘safe’ interaction in the ‘petting zoos.’
In South Africa there are only about 2,500 lions roaming free in parks, reserves and open spaces.
The current population of African lions (Panthera leo) is estimated as possibly as low as 20,000(3) in total. Population figures are often ‘confused’ by lions held in ‘canned’ hunting farms with the claim of “conservation.” As a further consideration in the Con of ‘canned’ farms, Blood Lion(2) has also highlighted that many of the ‘canned’ lions have been genetically mutated through poor breeding programmes, which means these mutated examples could never be released into wild populations without due consideration (not that any lion held captive in a ‘canned’ farm has much chance of an easy adjustment to a wild existence anyway).
According to government and private sectors sources(2), it is thought that these ‘canned’ farms and breeding facilities hold somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 predators in captivity. The vast majority held, possibly as many as 7,000 of these, are lions (“bred for the bullet”). Other species held include cheetah and leopard as well as a host of exotic animals such as tiger, jaguar and puma.
The income generated from the ‘canned’ businesses was estimated at approximately £44.9m ($70m USD)(4) in 2012, but increasing since. This ‘business’ is based on a typical income for a ‘canned’ lion hunt of £5,000 – £25,000 ($7,800 – $39,000 USD), plus resale of the lion’s body parts. The ‘canned’ income of course goes directly into the founding canned entrepreneurs’ pockets (less applicable taxes), with little evidence of trickle down into the wider population(5).
Pippa Hankinson (Blood Lions(2) producer) explains that in one breeding farm, which volunteers help run “there were 26 to 27 cubs in one enclosure” and “the volunteers started asking how it was possible they were all orphaned and where they went when they reached adulthood. Others noticed strangers coming to the breeding facilities to point out the lions they wanted which would then just disappear.”
“Most would find the staff and owners were short with them when they asked too many questions, or would laugh at them, but some encountered real hostility and one was threatened with being sued for damage to business and slander.”
One volunteer, who gave her name only as Beth, from the UK, said she planned and saved for her trip to work with lions for a year, even asking for donations instead of presents for her 21st birthday to afford the £1,750 price tag for volunteer fee and flights.
She booked through an agency and was only told the name of the park where she was going after she paid a non-refundable deposit. Having seen a documentary about ‘canned hunting’ before leaving, she checked with the park and was reassured they were not involved with hunting.
She said that on her arrival, in February this year, she was horrified to be instructed to pass “hungry and exhausted” three week-old cubs around large groups of tourists and schoolchildren and stack them five-deep on top of each other in a small dog kennel each night.
She said when she asked to see documentation for where the lions went, her hosts became hostile.
“We were told the lions were bred for conservation and would eventually be released into reserves around Africa,” she said. “I was absolutely astounded to find that the sister park’s website offers a vast list of hunting opportunities and even that ‘large game can be hunted by prior arrangement’.
“I felt sick to my stomach knowing I had stepped foot in that park without being made aware of this fact.”
Some facilities issued a staunch defence of their operations and denied any links to hunting.
The Lion Park outside Johannesburg, one of the country’s best known facilities offering interaction with cubs which attracts 250 volunteers a year, said offering schoolchildren the opportunity to interact with wildlife had considerable educational and conservation value.
Scott Simpson, the centre’s spokesman, said all their animals were microchipped and either retired to the centre’s own farm or to carefully-vetted private reserves or zoos.
Kelly Marnewick, manager for the Endangered Wildlfie Trust‘s carnivore conservation programme, said volunteers should be wary of any park that offered interaction with lion cubs.
“Genuine breeding for release is not done in a big commercial set up with volunteers, petting zoos and Facebook profiles,” she said. “There is no need to hand raise lion cubs for conservation. There are bad and less bad places where lions are held in captivity but those really wanting to work in conservation should go to where the animals are in the wild.”
Aislinn Laing noted at the close of her article that the South African government did not return a request for comment.
- “South Africa tourists ‘duped’ into collusion with lion hunting industry,” The Daily Telegraph, Aislinn Laing (Johannesburg), 24 September 2015
- Blood Lions
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, African Lions, published 2015
- “Canned Lion Hunting – Mass Commercialisation of Trophy Hunting in Africa,” Nikela, Pallavi Sharma, 28 April 2015
- “The Economics of Poaching, Trophy and ‘Canned’ Hunting,” Stephen Wiggins – IWB, 21 August 2015