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Blood Lions: 6 Harsh truths about canned lion hunting

Cape Town – Blood Lions has been shining a much-needed spotlight on the canned lion hunting industry in South Africa.The release of Ian Michler’s film at the Durban Film festival in July, blows the lid off all the conservation claims made by the predator breeding and canned hunting industries in South Africa.

The release of the film also coincided with the news that one of Zimbabwe’s most famous lions, Cecil, was shot in a supposed legal hunt on a private reserve just outside of Hwange National Park – globally fueling debate around the practice.

For 15 years Michler has researched and campaigned against the canned lion hunting industry in South Africa and after watching the Cape Town screening of the documentary, here are 6 harsh truths that hit home and make Blood Lions an essential film for all South Africans to see.

1. Canned lion hunting is ‘damaging brand South Africa’

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that breeds lions for the purposes of hunting, another being Texas in the US. Michler says the issue of canned breeding cannot be addressed without looking at the trophy hunting industry in its entirety, since it “ultimately all ends with bagging this trophy animal”.

“There is no justification for breeding lions, it is merely an exploitative commercial activity that is damaging brand South Africa and our reputation as a conservation country with a proud history, as well as our reputation as an eco-tourism destination,” said Michler.

Michler said government needs to ask itself if it is prepared to allow this and then put the necessary legislation in place in order stop it since there is absolutely no conservation value as the film Blood Lions reveals – deconstructing the “fraudulent message of the industry”

South African Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom also says in an interview in the film,  “My feeling is I’m not proud of it. The industry has certainly damaged Brand South Africa.”

2. Approximately 1 000 lions are being shot in canned hunts yearly in SA

In less than 15 years the number of lions in captivity has increased from less than 200 to an estimated 8 000.

Statistics reveal that around 1 000 lions are shot while in captivity in South Africa each year. Hunters pay half the price to shoot a lion that has been bred for canned hunts.  Michler says the hunts cost about $5 400 (about R70 902 At R13.13/$) to kill a lioness to $48 000 (about R600k) for a black maned lion – with a US hunter going undercover in the film to detail the process from the start of booking and selecting ‘his lion’ online to the on-site induction ahead of the kill.

3. Botswana is doing a much better job of managing its wildlife resources

Botswana’s government has put a total ban in place on trophy hunting. Its Environment Minister, Tshekedi Khama is also interviewed in the film and says the country sees more long-term value in its photographic safaris.

“We don’t get second chances,” says Khama.

Travel and tourism contributes an estimated 9% to South Africa’s struggling economy. Revenue generated from the canned hunting industry is estimated to be in excess of $200m (about R2.6bn) yet it is said to make up less 0.1 percent of SA’s overall tourism income. When compared to the canned hunting industry, photographic safaris are more sustainable and have more long-term value for conservation and the South African tourism industry as a whole.

4. Volunteers come to SA with good intentions but are getting pulled into the canned hunting industry cycle unknowingly

Michler states that unethical lion breeders are confusing the message and are in fact high jacking potential conservation funding. He says organisations such as Panthera, Endangered Wildlife Trust, Wilderness Foundation, Wildlands Conservation Trust are at the heart of conservation in South Africa and not a single one of them work with these breeding or petting facilities.

It is important for volunteers and those seeking to have an enriching, eco-tourism experience to ask those uncomfortable questions if they have any doubts about the conservation practices at the establishment they’re visiting.

“Ask to speak to their resident lion ecologist, ask which conservation programmes they’re working with,” suggests Michler, “You’ll very soon discover they don’t have one.”

5. South Africa’s canned hunting industry has resulted in a legacy that distinguishes between a domestic and wild lion 

When you have an understanding of what an apex predator is about and to see them reduced to these commodities in enclosed areas is shocking says Michler, as is the ” fraudulent message being used to justify the trophy hunting industry”.

“Lions are in trouble across Africa as the numbers indicate but the conservation community is not involved in breeding lions up on farms. They are involved in securing habitat, involved in stopping the fragmentation of habitat and in stopping the human animal conflicts that result in lions being poisoned or shot in wild areas,” said Michler.

As a result canned hunting has created a number of spin-off revenue streams such as Lion cub petting and walking with lions activities that in no way benefit the conservation of lions.

6. If Hunting is made illegal,  many lions in captivity would need to be euthanased

In 2005 there were an estimated 3 000 lions in captivity. Currently there are about 8 000 lions in breeding facilities across South Africa.

Michler says if the growth rate continues there will be about 15 000 by 2020. In his opinion it is essential to stop the problem in its tracks, before looking at what will be done with them if the practice is banned.

He admits a ban could result in a wholesale of the existing lions for discounted hunts during any window period provided to hunting organisations by the government, should such a ruling take place.

“The reality is that genuine sanctuaries have limited space and budget, meaning in some instances, especially the lions that have been genetically contaminated would need to be euthanased,” said Michler.

There will be two more screenings of Blood Lions at the Labia theatre on the 28th August and 1st September, as well as a screening in Plettenberg Bay on the 28th August, A second-round screening in Durban is also being planned with dates still to be confirmed. Screenings are also planned for Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. Keep an eye on the Blood Lions website and Facebook page for more details.

“Powerful footage and a compelling narrative from a number of world-renowned conservationists and welfare experts will leave viewers in little doubt as to what is taking place on many private farms across South Africa. Other than greed and ego, there are no reasons to be breeding lions in captivity to be killed in captivity. We believe the film can be a global tool for meaningful change,” said Michler.