A hard-hitting documentary that explores the breeding of predators and canned lion hunting in South Africa was released at the 36th Durban International Film Festival earlier this week. The 85-minute film follows the work of Garden Route-based safari operator and environmental journalist, Ian Michler, who has been researching and writing about canned hunting practices for 16 years. The film tracks the journey of Michler and American hunter Rick Swazey, who buys a lion online and then travels to South Africa to see how easy it is to shoot it.

Many well-known conservationists and animal welfare experts are interviewed in the documentary, providing a compelling narrative that exposes the horrors behind the multimillion-dollar industry and interrogates claims made by breeders of predators that their actions are in the interests of conservation.

Produced in South Africa by Regulus Vision in collaboration with the Wildlands Conservation Trust, Blood Lions is directed by Bruce Young and noted filmmaker Nick Chevallier. It will be screened at film festivals worldwide and thereafter shown in parliaments in Europe and in the Australian parliament.

The Blood Lions campaign, which aims to bring an end to canned hunting and exploitative breeding of predators on farms across South Africa, will also be given a significant boost by the film’s release. The practice of breeding lions for the sport of hunting them under captive conditions is still legal in South Africa. Minister of environmental affairs Edna Molewa claims canned hunting is banned but that “captive” hunting is legal if the animal hunted is not tranquillised.

Many conservationists, however, disagree. They claim the reference to “captive” hunting is an attempt to hide the reality that, in Michler’s words, “lions are still being bred in captivity to be shot in captivity”. According to Michler’s research, approximately 1 000 lions are being shot annually in South Africa and about 1 100 are killed for the burgeoning lion bone trade in the East. There are about 7 000 lions in cap- tivity across South Africa and as few as 3 000 left in the wild.

Michler says canned lion hunting continues to grow in South Africa and that the Eastern Cape is one of the hubs of the industry. Late last year Port Elizabeth’s Seaview Predator Park was refused its annual rates rebate after the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality accused it of participating in “canned hunting” by selling lions to the Cradock hunting reserve and Tam Safaris, and selling tigers to South Africa’s leading bone exporter, Letsatsi la Africa in the Free State.

“The captive breeding industry has no conservation and rehabilitation value whatsoever,” Michler says. He adds that no recognised ecologist or conservation agency is in support of facilities where predators are bred. Michler has taken the campaign against canned hunting abroad, and has visited the Australian and European parliaments to raise awareness of the practice. As a result, the Australian government placed a ban on the importation of all parts of lions earlier this year.

He is hoping Europe and the US will soon adopt a similar stance. “I hope Blood Lions will show that this type of behaviour should not be associated with progressive-thinking societies, and as a result governments, tourism agencies and ethical professional hunting bodies will act to close down the practices,” he said.

For more information and dates for upcoming screenings of the film, go to http://www.bloodlions.org – or visit the site for the campaign against canned hunting at https://uououhface- book.com/BloodLionsOfficial