WHITE RIVER – Lion-breeding centres and close-range hunting experiences that guarantee a successful lion hunt within two days of your arrival, are often moneymaking schemes disguised as conservation centres.
This is one of the messages delivered in Blood Lions, a documentary feature film that strips the viewer of any illusions he may have had about South Africa’s predator breeding and canned-lion hunting industries. The film was presented to Lowvelders in the Uplands College Hall on Monday evening. This screening followed one day after its first airing on DStv’s Discovery channel.
The woman whose idea it was to unveil the gut-wrenching truths of the industry, is first-time producer Pippa Hankinson. About four years ago, she visited a private lion breeding farm. What she saw there, broke her heart. “About 80 lions were clearly distressed in their small enclosures, many of them were visibly inbred.”
She contacted lan Michler, an environmental journalist who has been researching this injustice since 1999. He agreed to embark on a film-making journey with her. To tell the lions’ story, they enlisted the help of American hunter Rick Swazey, whose set-up search for an experience is followed in the film.
Rick starts out by booking one of these hunting trips online. His target of choice is a lioness and he pays $5 400, guaranteeing that he will shoot her at Benkoe farm near Vryburg at a close range in an enclosed space. Although a film crew’s presence is tolerated by the hunting farm during the preparation phases, they are chased from Benkoe tor wanting to film the close-range shooting of the lioness.
The lion is one of thousands in South Africa with a price on its head. According to the film, the commercialisation of lions has been unfairly enriching those in charge of predator-breeding farms and canned-hunting facilities.
The film shows that different facilities make millions out of 6 000 to 8 000 caged lions in various ways. According to the film, lionesses’ breeding abilities are stretched to their maximum potential, as more cubs eventually mean more income for the breeders – even if the cubs suffer as a result. They are separated from their mothers a week after their birth, ‘ causing the mother’s body to prepare itself for another cycle of breeding. Not only does this distress the lion cub, it also makes for the breeding of genetically impaired batches of cubs, as the lions’ natural cycles are disturbed by these processes.
The films shows how these lion cubs are a source of income for breeding facilities. Cub-petting sessions cost from R200 per adult and are a popular tourist attraction. Another moneymaking industry is the involving of volunteers at these centres. The film interviews three volunteers, who paid large amounts of money to serve as volunteers at various facilities where lions were bred. Although they initially thought they were doing their bit for conservation, they soon discovered that they were just pawns for endeavours that feed on helpless caged lions. One of them, Kara, was even offered the opportunity to sponsor a lion cub by paying for his food and veterinary costs. A year later, she was invited back to the breeding centre for a walk with “her” lion.
According to Ian, the essence of the film is that we are being fooled by these breeders and facilities to believe that they are involved in the conservation of lions. In reality, they are simply breeding lions for economic exploitation. “They convey this fraudulent message to visitors and even volunteers, who pay large amounts of money to help out at these centres,” ‘ he said. “Although these places claim that they serve some purpose towards conservation) no recognised conservation or wildlife association is associated with any of them,” he said. The film also refers to the relationships between the different centres. When the cubs have grown, they are transferred from the one centre to the other and, according to Ian, eventually end up as a victim of further exploitation. “Some are used for lion-walking tours, others for hunting in enclosed spaces and then there’s the lion bone trade that’s on the increase. In 2013 about 1 200 lion-bone exports were made to Asia,” he said. “The bones of lions are in high demand in the East. Traditional Chinese medicinal recipes used to make use of tiger bone, which usage was banned in the 1990s. They are now using lion bones for these purposes.”
These brutal truths have shocked nations worldwide. Australian minister Greg Hunt supports the cause and has already banned the importation of lion trophies to Australia. Botswana’s president, Mr Seretsi Khama, is also openly against the breeding of predators and canned-lion industry. Celebrity Ellen DeGeneres has openly voiced her support of T the film and its cause on Twitter.
In terms of South African law, the industry has not been deemed illegal. “After Blood Lions’ release, the country’s proposed threatened or protected species regulations, which would have excluded lions, will now be reviewed,” Pippa said. She, Ian and their team believe that together, we can slowly change things around to save our lions. Not only from extinction, but from immoral, brutal suffering that no living creature should endure.