When US Fish & Wildlife Service announced that as of January 22, 2016, all American trophy hunters would have to file additional permits before they could import their trophies from Africa, it was believed that lion hunts would be reduced.
Unfortunately this perception has not held true.
CannedLion.org reports a Free State lion-breeding operation put 61 captive-bred lions up for auction on 17 February – “a massive lion sale, even by South African lion industry standards… with a number of invisible telephone buyers”.
Advertised by South Africa’s biggest wildlife-game auctioneer, Vleissentraal, the auction was held at the Olivia Private Game Reserve near Bloemfontein in the Free State and saw 61 lions and two leopards go under the hammer – at a cost of “R58 000 each for the leopards” and “just over R2 million had changed hands” for the rest of the lions.
While the practice is not illegal in South Africa, it is widely questioned for what is believed to be unethical breeding practices and providing a backdoor for unauthorised or illegal hunts to take place – with awareness spearheaded most recently through the documentary Blood Lions.
In video footage posted to YouTube, the living conditions of young lion pens on Olivia Game Ranch are shown and calls into question the “dubious genetic status” of some of the lion cubs.
In the YouTube description the conditions of the pens are said to be “appalling”.
“We witnessed staff bottle feeding cubs that had been removed from their mothers prematurely. The white lion bloodline has been exploited by canned lion breeders due to demand from trophy hunters and a number of white cubs can be seen in the video.
“The original white lion genes were only found in a pride that inhabited the Timbavati Game Reserve and it is inevitable that a small genetic base bred intensively will result in deformities and birth defects. The larger of the white cubs in the video was on auction and sold for R21 000. This despite being cross eyed and having pigeon toed front legs.
“Its walk was awkward and it displayed unusually slow behaviour, as can be seen in the short clip in the video. This is indicative that it could possibly have been bought simply to be raised and sold to an overseas hunter in dubious conditions. Breeding with a lion of this nature would not be a commercially or ethically intelligent thing to do.”
“The canned lion industry has attracted the attention of animal rights advocates worldwide and is widely frowned upon as being unethical and done simply for profit. We certainly saw no compassion shown towards any of the animals by the farmer or attendees at the auction (the lady stroking the white tiger being the possible exception, although she was the companion of a buyer at the auction).”
CannedLion.org spoke to one potential buyer who asked not to be named, stating he had decided not to risk buying at the last minute.
“As a breeder, I felt I would rather wait, and if necessary, even spend R10 000 more for animals with parentage I could verify. In this game, the cardinal rule is buyer beware”.
Asked to describe the setting, he said the lion enclosures were “ten to fifteen hectares of electrified high-fencing with hardly a tree in sight for shade from the scorching African sun – equating it to “battery lion-breeding on an industrial scale”.
The film Blood Lions has been extremely influential in raising alarm bells around canned lion hunting and the overall abuse of the voluntourism dollar’, having been asked to host a special screening at one of Europe’s major international tourism trade fairs, ITB Berlin.
Added to this, the official Blood Lions DVD is set to be released in South Africa in March 2016, with the organisation saying “it hoped that many South Africans are able to watch it and join in this awareness campaign on canned hunting, cub petting and predator breeding”.