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July 21, 2010

South Africa's Dark Side

Exposing the canned lion hunting industry

  • Awaiting their doom. Photo courtesy of SanWild sanctuary

  • Raised in captivity to be killed by a foreign hunter. Photo courtesy of SanWild sanctuary

  • Helpless and hopeless. Photo courtesy of SanWild sanctuary

by Marcie Berry

Update: In November 2010, a Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the South Africa Predator Breeders’ Association regarding the hunting of captive-bred lions. This is sad news for lions in South Africa and it is unfortunate that this horrific industry will be allowed to continue to operate.

South Africa is a nation that takes pride in its rich biodiversity and beautiful landscapes. It also has a financial interest in protecting and conserving wildlife, as thousands of people every year come to view the majestic creatures who roam there. What most tourists do not see, however, are the helpless faces of the many lions held in captive breeding facilities.

Born to die

These lions are bred to supply the growing demand for canned lion hunting—a practice that allows a wealthy hunter, usually from the U.S. or Europe, to effortlessly add a lion to his collection of exotic animal trophies. In South Africa, thousands of lions are kept under unnatural and inhumane conditions for this purpose. Confined to small enclosures, they have been habituated to humans and depend on them. But they have a price on their heads and soon their caregivers sell the right to kill them to a foreign hunter. This is unethical hunting at its worst, and it taints South Africa's image.

Hope for change

Several years ago, South Africa's Ministry of Environment and Tourism took a big step forward and issued regulations that would effectively ban canned lion hunting operations. Almost immediately, the canned hunting industry responded with an appeal to the courts, bringing things to a standstill until the case can be heard later this year. The Minster at the time, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, was very outspoken against canned lion hunting, declaring that "South Africa has a long-standing reputation as a global leader on conservation issues. We cannot allow our achievements to be undermined by rogue practices such as canned lion hunting." Mr. van Schalkwyk is now the Minster of Tourism for South Africa and still has the ability to impact the canned lion hunting industry, this time through the tourism sector. 

Missed opportunity

This past May, Minister van Schalkwyk launched the first ever National Tourism Sector Strategy for South Africa. In it, van Schalkwyk calls for growth in responsible tourism; yet nowhere does he mention the need to eliminate canned lion hunting. Canned lion hunting makes South Africa look bad, and the marketing of such hunts to people visiting the country, especially for events such as the World Cup, is exactly the type of activity that should be discouraged if tourism is to grow in a responsible way. The strategy should aim to improve perceptions of South Africa abroad by ending unsustainable and cruel practices like canned lion hunting. The strategy currently states, "Its natural environment is one of South Africa's greatest tourism resources, and therefore there is a need for the tourism industry to be actively involved in conserving and protecting our natural environment." Lions are a part of the natural environment and a big draw for tourists, while lion breeding farms and canned hunting operators provide zero conservation benefits. 

The Ministry of Tourism should call for the elimination of inhumane, repulsive activities like canned lion hunting because they will drive tourists away from South Africa. A strategy that allows such operations to continue will ultimately undermine South Africa's tourism goals.

Photos courtesy of SanWild, a sanctuary for wildlife in South Africa.