2570 One of two lion cubs joins a group of babies including giraffe, blesbok, springbok, spotted hyena, striped hyenas and black leopard all born at the Lion Park and allegedly rejected by their mothers. Lanseria, Johannesburg. 121110 - Picture: Jennifer Bruce

Johannesburg - Gauteng’s top tourist attraction is one of numerous lion farms in South Africa that breed the big cats for the canned hunting industry and make money from its spin-offs like cub petting and volunteering, says an animal activist group.

“(The Lion Park knows) that volunteers and tourists would never visit lion-breeding facilities if they were told upfront that the cubs that were petted today were destined to be sold for canned hunting,” says Chris Mercer, the founder of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting.

Mercer was reacting to a recent CBS 60 Minutes exposé, which revealed that the Lion Park in Lanseria bred lions to ensure a supply of cubs year-round. When the lions reached maturity, they were shipped out to canned hunting operations because they were too dangerous to be near tourists.

The Lion Park said this week it planned to take legal action against the show’s producers.

“We will take this matter to the highest court in the land. There is nothing to hide here at the Lion Park,” said Win Booysen, general manager of the Lion Park. He said that for the past 18 months, the park had “traced every single one of our lions” through its new criteria-driven lion cub policy.

“We don’t sell our lions to people we don’t know or get a proper profile on… to make sure they don’t end up for hunting.”

Booysen conceded “lions were sold by the previous guys who didn’t make sure where the animals were going to”. But he said this had stopped.

“A lion won’t leave here until we know where it goes to. There are no sales in our books for the past 18 months.” This was with the exception of lions sold to Nazir Cajee and Joanne Hulley, whom 60 Minutes exposed as having links to hunting outfits.

Lion Park owner Rodney Fuhr conceded many of his lions ended up at hunting facilities, but said he would stop the practice.

“This whole thing about canned hunting… I think it’s grossly exaggerated,” Fuhr said in his interview.

“What (about) the jobs we’re providing and the hunting industry? Thousands of jobs.”

Booysen said Fuhr’s comments had been misunderstood. “He was just saying hunting is a big industry.”

Mercer said captive adult lions that started their lives as cubs for the petting industry were destined to be hunted. “Four hundred lions have passed through the Lion Park. Where have all the lions gone?”

The Lion Park was recently voted Gauteng’s top tourist attraction.

Saturday Star