These lions, illegally bred in Limpopo, were confiscated by the authorities who believe they were destined to feed the canned hunting market. Picture: Sanwild
Johannesburg - Born in captivity, the lion cubs are removed from their mothers within hours of their birth to be used at petting facilities.

There, unwitting foreign volunteers - often lured by lion farms advertising themselves as wildlife sanctuaries - pay hefty amounts to look at them or touch them under the pretence they’re helping to save the dwindling species.

“They do not know they are supporting a horrific industry, an industry that even many hunting associations reject as being unethical.”

When the lions are four to seven years old, they are sold for trophy hunting. “The laws require that the hunting is not conducted on the same farm that the animal was bred at. Instead, the lions are transported to other areas and shot there, some within days of being relocated.”

This practice guarantees a kill. “The habituated lion has nowhere to go inside the can or enclosure where it is shot. Occasionally they are attracted with bait, sometimes sedated. This most extreme type of trophy hunting serves the captive bred lions to their hunters on a silver platter.”

This scenario, exposed in the documentary film Blood Lions, is sketched in the introductory pages of a new parliamentary report on captive lion breeding for hunting and the lion bone trade, which calls for a policy and legislative overhaul “with a view of putting an end to this practice”.

The 24-page report, which was adopted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Environmental Affairs during a special meeting this week, followed a two-day committee colloquium in August on the captive breeding of lions and the lion bone trade.

The report summarises the views of an array of local pro-hunting outfits, conservation organisations and international organisations at the parliamentary colloquium.

“Captive breeding of lions for hunting has long been a blemish on South Africa’s wildlife and tourism landscape,” notes the committee in its report. “This tragic story needs to be arrested forthwith to avoid inflicting further and irreparable damage to South Africa’s conservation image and the responsible hunting industry that the country has succeeded to build over the years.”

The report finds that captive lion breeding holds no conservation value. “The revenues, which this industry generates, while highly lucrative for the owners, constitutes only a tiny proportion of South Africa’s tourist revenue that the captive lion breeding industry threatens to undermine.

“There are public sentiments that that captive bred lion industry is unethical and the lion bone trade is damaging to SA’s conservation record, damaging the socio-economic welfare of South Africans, damaging to South African tourism and hence must be stopped immediately by enacting relevant legislation. “

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) should urgently initiate a legislative and policy review of the captive lion breeding industry and should conduct an audit of captive lion and cheetah breeding facilities to assess legislative compliance.

The DEA and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) should present a clear programme and time-frames to deal with welfare and health issues relating to captive-bred lions, says the report.

But the DEA, says one welfare expert, is “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”.

“On the one side, there is public opinion and an international outcry over the captive breeding of lions and on the other, the department has allowed this industry to grow. They are being hammered from both sides.”

Aadila Agjee, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, says the report is welcomed. “We hope this is the beginning of a just and equitable system for the management of captive lions and other wild animals bred for commercial use in South Africa, and we look forward to participating in the policy and legislative review of the industry.”

Karen Trendler, the manager of the NSPCA’s wildlife trade and trafficking unit, says a legislative and policy review is long overdue for a “brutal” industry with no conservation value.

“We’ve achieved, partly through the colloquium and partly through our collective efforts, as well as the fantastic committee chairman (Phillemon Mapulane), more than any of us would have anticipated or expected. It will be interesting to see what happens now going forward.” In September, the NSPCA lodged an urgent interdict against the DEA to suspend its authorisation of lion bone exports.

“The trade in lion bone could increase global demand putting not only wild African lion populations, but also tiger and other big cat populations, at risk,” says Trendler.

There are around 8000 to 10000 lions in captivity but the real figure could be far higher. “It’s a very closed industry and that’s one of the challenges in regulating it and monitoring it. These animals are being bred to be killed for hunting and the lion bone trade. But if the breeders can no longer breed lions, that would help reduce the numbers.”

Yolan Friedman, the chief executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, remarks that the report acknowledges “the widely held stance by most South Africans, and all lion biologists and experts, that this industry is nothing but a blight on the conservation pedigree that South Africa should otherwise be able to claim”.

Chris Mercer, of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, is sceptical.

“The DEA and other conservation structures in SA are so thoroughly captured by the hunting industry that I doubt if anything short of divine intervention would cause them to even look sideways at the hunting fraternity.

“I seriously doubt that such a captured conservation regulator will have any respect for the parliamentary report, and will continue to blindly support - and promote - canned lion hunting regardless of what the 12000 International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) scientists and the SA Parliament are urging. We need a compassionate revolution in conservation,” says Mercer.

Deon Swart, the chief executive of the SA Predators Association, says it is “extremely unhappy” with the parliamentary report and could go to court to overturn a potential ban on the breeding of lions in captivity.

“The report is not a true reflection of what happened in the colloquium. There is a lot of personal interpretation. If this is the way we’re going in future with our conservation policy, being overwhelmed by minority groups, or people opposed to sustainable use... A lot of inputs were not reflected in this report.

“We firmly believe that our courts, as usual, will listen to us and rule in our favour. We’ve done it several times and will do it again if we need to. We don’t want to deal with government in court cases.

“We want to be friends with the government, to sit down around a table, have tea and discuss policy.”

The committee found that the Minister of Environmental Affairs must submit quarterly reports on the progress of the policy and legislative review.

This week, acting Environmental Affairs Minister Derek Hanekom stated that he intends appointing a high level panel to review policies and legislation on a number of matters related to animal breeding, hunting and handling.

Mapulane, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee, says captive lion breeding, both for hunting and the lion bone trade, has “caused much local and international uproar leading to the expulsion of certain members of the industry by international pro-hunting organisations.

“The IUCN had also raised concerns about captive lion breeding for hunting, calling on the government to terminate this practice.”

The Saturday Star