World opinion is so firmly stacked against South Africa’s policy of allowing the hunting of captive-bred lions that even the world’s largest hunting organisation has now banned the Professional Hunters Association of SA representatives from marketing lion hunts at their annual conference and refused to register South African lion trophies in their record books. To be quite frank, this is nothing but a national embarrassment.
When the US hunting umbrella organisation, the Safari Club International (SCI), met in Las Vegas last weekend they stunned the hunting world by outright rejecting captive lion imports from South Africa with immediate effect. The SCI now says it “opposes hunting of African lions bred in captivity”. If the hunting associations have finally found their consciences, why can’t we?
Why is it that South Africa has watched as the US, Australia, France and the Netherlands have all banned the importation of captive-bred lion trophies and other iconic species, not to mention the 45 airlines that have placed embargoes on all Big Five hunting trophies? How did it happen that British Airways, Air France, American Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa and the Emirates became more principled about our wildlife than we are?
South Africa is supposed to be a country that prides itself on ethical tourism and markets our country with amazing images of our wildlife and nature. More and more what the world sees is a government policy that continues to defend breeding lions for the bullet, where the majestic king of the beasts has been reduced on 200 South African farms to nothing but walking target practice.
It is not like we were not duly warned. Former Tourism minister Derek Hanekom made it quite clear that captive-bred lion hunting is damaging Brand South Africa: “Is this something that we feel proud of as a nation? My feeling is I’m not proud of it. I think we should consider stronger measures to control, if not to ban, the breeding of lions in captivity.”
What I find amazing is that even US President Donald Trump recently characterised lion hunting as a horror show in a recent tweet, saying that his own department would be hard-pressed to change his mind that “this horror show in any way helps the conservation of elephants or any other animal”. He was specifically referring to the hunting of wild lions and elephant in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Imagine what he would tweet about the shooting a lion for $20000 (R242000) in an enclosed area - a lion that has been bred for the bullet?
It is amazing that such a conservative US president, whose two sons are avid big game hunters, has chosen to side with the conservationists and go up against his own department, the hunters, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) lobby.
Just consider that the US hunting industry is immensely powerful and forms a voting bloc with the NRA of fourmillion votes, making it at times a kingmaker. There is only one explanation - US and global public opinion is so outraged at the continuing practice of lion hunting that their pressure has become greater than those who carry the gun and fund political campaigns. It really shows that the tide has finally turned.
But we don’t have to look across oceans for the criticism of our current captive-bred lion policy - our neighbours have spoken loud and clear. Botswana's Environment Minister Tshekedi Khama pulled no punches when he was interviewed on the internationally acclaimed award-winning documentary Blood Lions and said: “We get no second chances.”
How about the fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (16000 leading conservation scientists), at its last World Conservation Congress, requested its director-general to encourage South Africa to draft and enact legislation by 2020 to terminate lion breeding for the purposes of hunting.
The solution put to our Department of Environment (DEA) by numerous conservation bodies is quite simple: phase out captive-bred lion hunting over the next three years. Seeing as the 200 South African farms that are breeding lions for the bullet cannot release the cats into the wild for many reasons, their stock should be counted by the DEA. Males and females must be kept separate and not allowed to breed. The remaining cats can be hunted over the next three years and then the practice must be banned entirely.
As for the tourist outlets that market their cuddly lion-petting experiences, they should no longer be allowed to send these cubs, once grown, to farms to be hunted.
That national embarrassment was aired on the US investigative show 60 Minutes when Clarissa Ward disclosed to 18.4 million American viewers how many of our cubs go from petting outlets to be hunted.
It is time for us to find our conscience and do the right thing.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor