Ban on lion hunting and captive breeding – What is all the fuss about?

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy said that Parliament will be looking at a ban on captive lion breeding for petting and hunting purposes. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy said that Parliament will be looking at a ban on captive lion breeding for petting and hunting purposes. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Published May 7, 2021


By Dominic Naidoo

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy announced on Sunday that Parliament will be looking at a ban on captive lion breeding for petting and hunting purposes.

This comes after a recent study on the practice revealed the inhumane and cruel conditions faced by these icons of Africa.

Researchers from the study recommended that the practice be banned outright, and a more authentic experience offered to tourists.

This is not the only item on the agenda under this topic. Parliament will also be looking at ceasing the hunting of damage-causing animals (animals that take livestock or destroy crops) for profit, stop "green" hunting of animals (no-kill tranquillising of animals using darts) and preventing game ranches from supplying hunters with game that does not traditionally occur in the area.

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These aspects take away the vital “authentic element” of hunting say the research panel.

The proposed regulations hope to promote ethical hunting practices within hunting organisations and to encourage black empowerment of the industry. Currently, most captive breeding and hunting facilities are owned by white individuals or groups with very little revenue from trophy hunting making its way to communities living in these wildlife areas.

Yes, this marks a massive victory for animal rights organisations in South Africa and around the world, but the fight is far from over. Here are five reasons why trophy hunting should not be considered part of conservation:

1. Lion trophy hunting can negatively impact the population of a species.

Although the pro-hunting fraternities like to sell the idea that controlled hunting of a small number of animals would not hurt the overall population, research has shown this not to be the case.

Wildlife groups estimate that approximately 3500 lions are living in the wild in South Africa and up to 12 000 captive lions living on game farms. There are an estimated 600 lions, both captive-bred and wild killed in Africa annually. A report by Jeff Flokken published in National Geographic explained that the largest male lions are sought-after by wealthy trophy hunters and when these lions are killed, it leads to destabilisation of pride.

Younger lions fight each other for dominance and cubs could be killed by rival males, these incidents increase the number of lion deaths that are the direct result of trophy-hunting.

2. Rural communities rarely see economic benefits.

Trophy hunting, especially canned trophy hunting does very little for communities living in and around conservation areas. There have been rare cases where communities and hunting organisations have successfully worked together but sadly, this is not the norm.

When hunting occurs on privately-owned game farms, although the farm may employ individuals from local communities, a large sum of the income stays with the game farm owner and does not necessarily lead to the development of infrastructure that would benefit local people such as clinics and schools.

Dr Naomi Rose, a renowned marine mammal scientist agrees. She states on the Humane Society of the United States blog, “Regarding the statement that trophy hunters do a lot for conservation, it’s true that some portion of some hunters’ fees goes to conservation in some countries, but it’s rarely the major source of conservation funding. Usually, middlemen take the lion’s share of sport hunting proceeds and local communities and conservation and management agencies get the dregs.”

3. Conservation should not be linked to hunting.

Earth’s natural resources include air, minerals, plants, soil, water, and wildlife. National Geographic defines Conservation as “the care and protection of these resources so that they can persist for future generations. It includes maintaining diversity of species, genes, and ecosystems, as well as functions of the environment, such as nutrient cycling.”

“Care and protection” cannot and should not include killing indigenous wildlife for profit. Extensive research commissioned by National Geographic has shown that lions have disappeared from 94% of their historic range with only 25 000 left on the African continent. Peter Lindsey, director of the Lion Recovery Fund said that “the survival of the species depends on working with local communities that must coexist with lions and recognising their role in protecting them.”

4. Trophy hunting is an elitist sport

Cecil the lion at Hwange National Parks. File picture: Reuters

Hunting lion and other big game for trophies is an expensive endeavour. A 2016 Business Tech Article put the cost of hunting a full-grown male lion at around $50 000 (R720 000) with the entire Big Five group setting a hunter back up to R4.4 million. Trophy hunting is a sport for the ultra-wealthy who take part in this cruel practice under the guise of helping rural communities in Africa.

Wealthy individuals with lavish requests could lead to corruption in developing countries as seen with the case of Cecil the lion being hunted by a wealthy American dentist, Walter Palmer, in Zimbabwe.

The dentist wanted a large male lion and paid $55 000 dollars for it, his tour guides lured Cecil outside the protected area and shot him with an arrow to slow him down eventually killing the lion 2 days later. Palmer claimed that was not aware that the lion was so famous and being used for research. He was acquitted of any wrongdoing, but we can assume that Cecil died because of greed both from Palmer and his hosts.

5. There is a thin line between trophy hunting and poaching.

There has to be stringent protocols and processes involved in legal trophy hunting to make sure everything is above board and legitimate. Allowing the legal practice of hunting for profit to take place provides a smokescreen for poaching and other illegal practices which could easily slip under the radar.

According to a report by Save African Animals, “Opening up even a limited legal trade creates a smokescreen for poachers which is almost impossible to police. Before 1986, when the whaling moratorium was introduced, legal quotas were widely used as covers for poaching, driving some species near to extinction. The same is happening with trophy hunting of endangered species.”