South Africa has about 7 000 lions that have been bred in captivity to be shot in captivity – and it is completely legal.

The animals are shot by paying clients in a captive hunting industry that turns over about R100 million a year. Many of these lions have already brought in extra income for their owners through “cub petting” tourist ventures when they were young animals.

The government has banned the hunting of drugged lions, or shooting lions that have been attracted by bait, but shooting a captive-bred lion in a fenced area is legal. Now a team of film-makers, journalists and conservationists have banded together to produce Blood Lions, a documentary on captive lion hunting which they hope will get the government to scrap the practice.

One of the movie team, local safari operator and journalist Ian Michler, said yesterday there was no conservation value in captive lion breediing.

“The public needs to understand that. You can’t reintroduce a captive-bred lion into the wild. These predator-breeding farms, about 200 of them, are fenced properties and the lions are fed like domestic stock. They are then shot. “The horror of it only really comes home with a visual representation, when you see 20 lions moving around being shot.”

Estimates are that between 800 and 1 000 lions are shot in South Africa every year. Last year only five of these were hunted in the wild by hunters tracking the animals in the traditional “fair chase” method. The rest were shot behind fences where they had little or no chance of escape.

About 10 years ago, when the Department of Environmental Affairs tackled the issue of canned lion hunting, the resultant legislation ruled that captive-bred lions had to be released into large areas for two years before they could be commercially hunted. But lion breeders took the matter to court and this rule was overturned – largely because the ministry’s own advisers had said captive-bred lions could not be rehabilitated into the wild. “There are some reputable private game reserves where they have professional hunting operations, but there are a whole lot of others where farmers and businessmen have cottoned on to the fact that there is money in this captive hunting. There is also a trade in breeding mutants, like white lions.”

The issue is on the agenda for the next meeting of the Professional Hunters Association of SA (Phasa).

Hermann Meyeridricks, president of Phasa, has written to the 1 300 members asking the association to reconsider its stance on captive-bred lion hunting, adopted in 2013. This recognised that the practice was lawful and that there was a demand for it.

Now Meyeridricks said it had become clear those opposed to captive lion hunting were not just a small animal rights group. “Even within our own ranks, respected voices are speaking out publicly against it. Our position is no longer tenable.”

He appealed to members to come up with a policy that was “defensible in the court of public opinion”.

Blood Lions will be screened at the Labia today, tomorrow and on Saturday.