Cape Town - About 6 000 lions held captive on farms in South Africa could be hunted down and slaughtered in fenced-off areas like Zimbabwe lion Cecil unless authorities act, a wildlife protection group has warned.
When Cecil was shot and killed after being lured from his home at the Hwange National Park, the world was outraged. Now, conservationists are calling for a ban on canned hunting and the import of lion trophies to prevent similar slaughter.
Four Paws South Africa, the local branch of a worldwide animal protection organisation, has challenged those defending canned hunting and trophy killing.
The group dismisses claims that the hunting of captive lions prevents wild ones from being slaughtered.
“On the surface, this case (of Cecil) may appear to support captive breeding of lions to alleviate the pressure on wild populations but this is not the case,” said Four Paws regional manager Fiona Miles.
In fact, she said, “there is mounting evidence... that numerous lions are being lured out of conservation areas to be hunted or trapped to improve captive bloodlines.”
Four Paws believes there is no evidence that the finances raised by hunting captive lions support conservation, nor that the practice prevents wild lions being hunted.
The group said canned hunting needs to be banned and the entire situation reviewed.
The killing of Cecil by American trophy hunter Walter Palmer, who is a suburban dentist, is being probed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to see if it was part of a conspiracy to violate wildlife trading laws.
Palmer has admitted to the slaughter, during which Cecil was shot with an arrow and tracked for 40 hours as he bled before eventually being shot dead with a rifle.Palmer killed the 13-year-old animal during a visit to Zimbabwe this month. Cecil is the most well-known lion at the park and is said to have been lured from his home with bait before he was slaughtered, beheaded and skinned.
Around 6 000 captive lions on about 200 farms across South Africa face the same gruesome fate as Cecil, according to Four Paws.
Cecil was wearing a GPS collar as part of a research project run by Oxford University.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it wanted the hunter to contact the agency immediately.
It is unclear whether the dentist has returned to Minneapolis, where protesters have demonstrated outside his offices.
The White House said on Thursday that it had received a public petition seeking Palmer’s extradition to Zimbabwe, noting it had exceeded the required 100 000 signatures.
Palmer’s Arizona-based hunting club has suspended him.