SAA Cargo lifts ban on hunting trophies

Cape Town – South African Airways Cargo division has issued a notice confirming it will once again be transporting selected hunting trophies, effective since 20 July.

Traveller24 reported on SAA’s decision to ban the transportation, initially put into effect in April 2015, following an incident in which hunting trophies were allegedly shipped to Perth, Australia under a false label of ‘mechanical equipment’.

The move was hailed by conservationists and responsible tourism operators both locally and internationally, with the world’s largest airline Emirates following suit and instituting its own ban on the transportation of hunting trophies.

SAA Cargo announced the lifting of the embargo in a cargo policy and procedures advisory, dated 20 July 2015, saying the airline had been engaging with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). It said the DEA’s implementation of “additional compliance measures for permits and documentation” caused the airline to review its embargo and that it has since been lifted on the transportation of selected hunting trophies, namely “rhino, elephants, lion and tiger”.

The move was hailed by conservationists and responsible tourism operators both locally and internationally, with the world’s largest airline Emirates following suit and instituting its own ban on the transportation of hunting trophies.

SAA Cargo announced the lifting of the embargo in a cargo policy and procedures advisory, dated 20 July 2015, saying the airline had been engaging with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA). It said the DEA’s implementation of “additional compliance measures for permits and documentation” caused the airline to review its embargo and that it has since been lifted on the transportation of selected hunting trophies, namely “rhino, elephants, lion and tiger”.

The airline said the hunting trophy cargo would also be “liable to physical and documentary inspection by the relevant nature conservation authorities, as they deem fit”.

While the ban was never meant to be indefinite, the move by SAA Cargo comes as the contentious issue of canned hunting takes centre stage, with the #Animalrightsintourism trending at number two across South Africa at the time of publishing.

The issue is also being highlighted in the Blood Lions documentary by Ian Michler of Invent Africa  – one of the continent’s finest wildlife guides, as well as an outspoken conservationist who has fought for the protection of African wilderness and wildlife. For 15 years Ian has researched and campaigned against the canned lion hunting industry in South Africa.

‘Blood Lions’ is due for release at the Durban International Film Festival on 22nd July.

New documentary lays bare SA’s canned hunting industry

“The canned hunting industry is unnatural‚ unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. The Born Free Foundation on Wednesday applauded the international premiere of the hard-hitting documentary‚ Blood Lions‚ which “blows the lid off the predator breeding and canned hunting industries in South Africa”.

Last year alone‚ according to the foundation‚ more than 800 captive lions were shot in South Africa.

According to the film makers‚ Blood Lions “shows in intimate detail how lucrative it is to breed lions‚ and how the authorities and professional hunting and tourism bodies have become complicit in allowing the industries to flourish”.

Will Travers‚ president of the international wildlife charity said‚ “South Africa’s failure to address the canned hunting industry has emboldened those who make a living out of the death of lions bred‚ raised and slaughtered on a ‘no kill‚ no fee’ basis.

“The canned hunting industry is unnatural‚ unethical and unacceptable. It delivers compromised animal welfare and zero education. It undermines conservation and creates a moral vacuum now inhabited by the greed and grotesque self-importance of those who derive pleasure in the taking of life.

“Blood Lions lays bare the truth behind the canned hunting industry that‚ far from contributing to the future survival of the species‚ may‚ in fact‚ accelerate extinction in the wild‚ leaving behind a trail littered with rotting corpses of its helpless and hopeless victims‚” Travers said.

Blood Lions‚ directed by Bruce Young and Nick Chevallier‚ premiered at the Durban International Film Festival at 6pm on Wednesday.

#AnimalRightsInTourism – Blood Lion and why you shouldn’t pet baby lions

#animalrightsintourism – This is the Official trailer for Blood Lions, a documentary that exposes the terrible truth behind the predator breeding and canned lion hunting industries in South Africa, set to be released on Wednesday 22nd July.

Every day in South Africa at least 2-3 hand-reared captive bred lions are hunted. It’s unethical and immoral, yet under our laws, not illegal. It’s cruel and brutal. It’s not sport.

Learn more here: https://www.bloodlions.org/

South Africa’s ‘Blood Lions’, big cats bred for commercial slaughter

South Africa has upwards of 10 000 lions, but those number s conceal a classification system whereby breeders or farms class them as captive, managed and wild. If you look at the real numbers, only about 3000 lions are truly wild, with 7000 others residing on private farms and of those, a large portion are kept in stable-like conditions under terrible conditions.

When you take a closer look at what are essentially commercial breeding programs you’ll see a very different side of what some like to call ‘conservation’, where by cubs are used for their cute factor, older lions are seen in the ‘wild’ as showpieces and mature lions are hunted as trophies; even worse are the hundreds of lions slaughtered like cattle for the booming lion bone trade in the East – they use it for aphrodisiacs often referred to as tiger wine –.

Essentially, a large portion of ‘captive’ lions in South Africa are used for one thing, canned lion hunting. Big game farmers stand to make huge profits through this practice and folks ‘high up’ have a vested interest – read, back-handed deals – in the proliferation of this practice and it’s marketing to North Americans and Europeans who just can’t get enough of the ‘wild hunt’.

That’s where Ian Michler comes in; for the last 15 years he has been campaigning for the abolishment of canned lion hunting and fighting those who would want you to believe that trophy hunting injects masses of cash into conservation and attracts scores of tourists. In fact, trophy hunting makes up an infinitesimally small portion of the R100 billion tourism trade in SA and well, of the nine million annual tourists we attract, only around 9000 of those come for trophy hunting.

“During the 1990s, I lived in the Okavango Delta and my research there into trophy hunting took me to the canned hunting farms of South Africa. For anyone who has an ecological understanding of the natural world, to witness territorial and apex predators being kept under intensive agricultural conditions is horrifying. And then to find out that they are being bred to be killed by hunters in confined areas defies all sense of integrity,” Michler told Untold Africa, a wildlife conservation and awareness initiative.

“I got to see and understand very quickly that there is no basis or justification for this type of behaviour, other than human greed and complete ignorance that is. And there is also a degree of deception by many of the operators involved so it became obvious why I should stay involved.”

“When one contextualises the amount generated by the predator breeders and canned hunters, the financial contribution is miniscule. The canned lion hunting contribution is a tiny fraction of one per cent of the almost R100-billion South African tourism generates.In addition, visitor numbers also tell the story: of the over nine million International Foreign Arrivals that come into South Africa annually, a mere 9,000 or so are trophy hunters and of these, about only 1,000 or so will be to kill ions in canned hunts.”

In a new documentary, Blood Lions, we can follow Michler’s story and see firsthand what is really happening behind the scenes of our local lion ‘industry’, as well as get some insights from environmental experts.

Have a look at the trailer and be sure to keep an eye out for the doccie, it’s sure to be an eye-opener.

What is canned lion hunting? Activists, industry, government disagree

According to the Conservation Action Trust while government, industry and activists agree that canned lion hunting is wrong, they don’t agree on just what exactly constitutes canned lion hunting.

Minister Edna Molewa recently called a meeting with industry stakeholders to address rising concerns over the canned lion hunting industry – after the release of a new documentary titled Blood Lions highlighted the conditions lions were being raised in.

Industry stakeholders did not appear to include NGOs critical of the industry however.

The Department of Environmental Affairs reiterated that it is prohibited to hunt a lion:

  • In a controlled environment (the minimum size of the hunting camp is not prescribed in the TOPS Regulations, as it will differ from area to area. However, the minimum size is prescribed in many of the provincial acts/ ordinances);
  • While it is under the influence of a tranquiliser (the minimum time frame before a lion may be hunted after it has been darted, is not prescribed in the TOPS Regulations but is regulated in terms of some of the provincial acts/ ordinances);
  • With certain methods, such as poison, snares, air guns, shot guns, or by luring it with scent or smell.

Here is where the big issue comes in – critics view the factory farming of lions as part of the canned lion hunting issue.

From the activists’ point of view if a lion is bred in highly unnatural and stressful conditions to be hunted, with no survival skills for in the wild, then it doesn’t really stop being canned lion hunting just because the area it was shot in was fairly big and it wasn’t under the influence of tranquilisers.

In other words, “While government appears intent on reforming and sanitising the business of breeding and hunting lions, critics want to see it dismantled altogether” according to the Conservation Action Trust.

Unsavoury practices in canned hunting industry prompt government concern

“Government and the industry insist that hunting of captive-bred lions represents the legitimate and sustainable use of a wildlife species which they see as “a key driver of economic growth, skill development and job creation in the sector”.

Minister Edna Molewa has just met with stakeholders “to address widespread and mounting public concern” about the controversial practice of canned lion hunting.

 The meeting comes at a time when a new documentary film called ‘Blood Lions’ exposes some shocking practices of this industry, and a new international report by TRAFFIC throws light on the growing trade in lion bones, involving hundreds of South African lion carcasses exported annually to supply the traditional Asian medicine market.

The DEA’s official statement about the meeting reveals a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes ‘canned hunting’ in South Africa.

Only organisations supportive of lion breeding and hunting, including the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) and the South African Predator Association (SAPA), appear to have been invited to the meeting. No critics of the industry or conservation NGO’s mentioned in the list of stakeholders involved.

Government and the industry insist that hunting of captive-bred lions represents the legitimate and sustainable use of a wildlife species which they see as “a key driver of economic growth, skill development and job creation in the sector”. While they acknowledge that “rogue elements” and “criminality operating at the fringe of the legal” industry have to be rooted out, they believe that all that is necessary to rectify the poor public perception of the lion breeding business is to improve and clarify the regulations which govern it.

In stark contrast, opponents claim that factory farming lions in stressful, unnatural and unhealthy breeding farms for the sole purpose of supplying the lucrative trophy hunting industry (with a secondary income stream from the trade in lion bones) represents a violation of wildlife conservation principles and animal welfare standards, and has no conservation value.

Around 6000 lions are currently confined in about 150 South African breeding facilities.

While government appears intent on reforming and sanitising the business of breeding and hunting lions, critics want to see it dismantled altogether.

At the meeting of stakeholders it was decided to establish “a forum to investigate a number of issues related to the lion industry in South Africa”. Given its pro-breeding composition it is highly unlikely that this forum will be in a position to resolve these deep-seated differences.

Tiger-trade crackdown boosts lion-bone sales

Conservationists stress the need to address Asia’s appetite for wildlife products.

A crackdown on illegal tiger products in China has created a soaring trade in lion bones from South Africa to Asia, ecologists say.

Alleged ‘tiger’-infused wines and traditional medicines are popular in China. But when the country tightened its rules on selling parts from tigers and other Asian big cats in 2006 and 2007, it may have “inadvertently set off a chain reaction of interlinking and unexpected events” that led to the bones of African lions being exported to fill the gap in demand, according to a 16 July study1. The report is published jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford, UK, and the international wildlife organization TRAFFIC.

The trade in lion bones disguised as those from tigers had been recognized before, but not quantified, says ecologist Andrew Loveridge of WildCRU and a co-author of the study. The report shows that lion skeletons sold out of South Africa rose from around 50 in 2008 to 573 in 2011, most of which were destined for Asia. (Figures for more recent years are not yet available).

In a Correspondence to Nature2, published on 15 July, the study’s authors note that the South African trade is a by-product of the trophy-hunting industry and that hunted lions are almost exclusively captive-bred. South Africa is unusual in that some 68% of the more than 9,000 lions in the country are kept in captivity, often for big game-hunting enterprises, so sales were allowed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, a treaty that governs such transactions.

But Loveridge fears that the appetite for lion bones has grown so great that it may stoke trade from other African countries. Many do not have extensive captive lion populations, so wild cats might be put at risk.

Bones of contention

The existence of a legitimate means to obtain wildlife products can encourage law-breaking by providing the market with a supply that is rare and thus highly coveted, conservationists say. Many point to the legally sanctioned practice of tiger farming in China, which has the biggest market for wildlife goods, as a model that has fueled the desire for tiger products.

Farms began appearing in the 1980s to breed the critically endangered animals. But investigations have found that the cats are instead frequently bred for their pelts and to be made into tiger-bone wine — a luxury spirit said to confer virility. Environmental groups, the World Bank and UK and Indian wildlife officials have all expressed their dismay at tiger farming, which they say incentivizes poaching.

Damping down demand

Chinese officials have recently touted their intent to crack down on the illicit trade in wildlife by publicly destroying contraband ivory and participating in diplomatic discussions on tightening law enforcement. But they have been less willing to discuss demand. Zhao Shucong, the head of the Chinese State Forestry Administration in Beijing, told Nature: “We have a demand for food and water in China, not ivory.”

Tackling the demand for tiger parts will be even thornier given its commercial value, says Mahendra Shrestha of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. “I’m not sure whether the minister understands the level of demand in China not only for ivory, but all kinds of wildlife parts and products,” he adds.

The report authors say that better distinguishing legally sold lion parts from other illicitly traded parts would help to impede unsanctioned exports. But conservationists agree that there is a pressing need to frustrate buyers by stamping out demand. “The solution has to be on the consumer side,” Loveridge says.

Five lies you need to stop believing about the lion cub petting industry

The harsh truth is: when you’re cuddling a lion cub or bottle feeding one, you’re directly funding the canned lion industry, writes Carla Lewis-Balden.

The cute cub you’re cooing over will likely meet it’s end at the end of a hunting rifle or bow and arrow.

Lie #1: Volunteering at these ‘animal sanctuaries’ promotes conservation

Google ‘gap year’ and ‘big cats volunteer’ and you will get millions of results about establishments offering well-intending but ill-informed gap year students the chance to interact with lion cubs, while “contributing towards conservation and research”. Not all of these organisations are what they claim to be.

Beverly Pervan, director of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting explains that some lion farmers rent out their cubs to tourist resorts and “voluntourism projects”.

“There is an insatiable demand for cub petting by tourists.  All the tourists who indulge in cub petting are supporting the canned hunting industry,” says Pervan.

“When the cubs are too big to be handled by humans any longer, they are sent back to the lion farmer to be hunted.

“Basically lion farmers use the profits they make from cub petting to externalise the cost of rearing the cub to a huntable size. Once you understand that there is virtually no market for adult lions other than hunting and that more than a thousand lions are canned hunted every year you begin to understand the scale of the tragedy.”

Lie #2: The cubs are orphans rejected by their mother, or it killed by poachers

Most of these establishments spin sob stories to gullible tourists about the animal’s mothers abandoning them at birth, or parents being killed by poachers.

There are genuine sad stories but they are very rare,” says Fiona Miles, South Africa’s manager of the FOUR PAWS Animal Welfare Foundation. They run LIONSROCK, a sanctuary in Bethlehem for big cats that were kept in inadequate conditions in zoos, circuses or private captivity.

“The majority of cubs encountered at facilities, where interaction is provided, are the product of intensive captive breeding or farming,” says Miles.

“These cubs are removed from their mother as young as possible and hand raised. The reason this is done is twofold: The cubs raise funds through interaction, the second reason is that the mother will go into season again and will reproduce more rapidly than if she was allowed to raise her own young,” Miles explains.

READ: ‘Blood Lions’ filmmaker Ian Michler speaks out on canned hunting and trophies

Lie #3: When they are adults, the cubs will be re-introduced into the wild

As social animals lion cubs learn from their parents how to hunt and interact with other lions. A hand raised animal will not have gained this experience. There is a certain instinctual knowledge on hunting but not successful hunting.

According to Miles, it is highly improbable that a lion raised in captivity by man will be able to survive for any extensive period, once it’s placed back into a wild environment.

The best goal for lions currently in captivity would be a situation like LIONSROCK where they are provided with ample space and minimal human contact.

READ: Joburg Lion Park to can lion cub petting in 2016

Lie #4: Lion breeders are contributing towards the dwindling numbers of lions in the wild

“Firstly it is unlawful for any registered sanctuary to breed with animals other than in carefully controlled specific programs for endangered species,” say Pervan.

“Otherwise breeding is prohibited for sanctuaries,” says Pervan.

In 2010 the Lion Breeders Association won a court case in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) against the (then) Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk. Van Schalkwyk successfully imposed a verdict that semi-tame animals may only be hunted 24 months after being set free from their breeding cages, but the Lion Breeder’s Organisation took the case to the SCA, where they won.

The SCA proved that lion farming was “a closed circuit”, since no captive-bred lions have ever been released back to the wild, thereby showing that lion farming has nothing to do with conservation.

Accordingly, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had no jurisdiction to impose any restrictions on them. Lion breeders are farmers, not conservationists,” the Campaign Against Canned Lion Hunting explains.

“Therefore, no captive-bred lions have ever been released back to the wild, nor would conservation authorities ever allow it because of genetic and veterinary reasons,” Pervan says.

Lie #5: Playing and posing with these animals teaches children the value of conservation and makes them appreciate the animals more

“Interaction with wild animals serves no positive influence on the animals. Animals that are utilised for human interaction will invariably become habituated and lose any fear of humans,” says Miles.

With habituation, the risk of the animal causing injury to another person is increased, as is the risk of disease transfer. Ethically any interaction between a human and an animal merely opens the door to risk to the animal and ultimately lowers the welfare of the animal.

“A hands-off approach would be just as beneficial towards any conservation program, while also maintaining the welfare of the animals. A direct interaction operation will claim that it aids conservation and ignore the fact that it does this at the cost of the welfare of every animal that passes through its doors.”

Blood Lions: The film that blows the brutal lid off the canned hunting industry

In South Africa there are some 10,000 lions and the numbers are increasing all the time. A conservation success some might aver. But the lie behind this statistic is revealed in the fact that South Africa is the only lion range state that has three separate classifications for these great cats: captive, managed and wild. And so we find that only 3,000 – less than a third – are truly wild and living in designated conservation areas.

The rest, 7,000 or so, live on private farms, mostly in small crowded camps where their social structure is destroyed, not to mention their genetic integrity. The only purpose, despite rather weak attempts to justify the activity as conservation-based or ‘scientific,’ is to breed them.

Young cubs are great drawcards for visitors especially if they can pet them. Slightly older, they provide a rush for visitors who pay to walk with them in the veld. And finally as they grow into the magnificence of adulthood,

with flowing manes and faces unblemished, they become handsome targets for trophy hunters. Hundreds more are slaughtered and shipped to the East for the burgeoning lion bone trade.

This, in essence, is the captive lion breeding industry and its inseparable consequence: canned lion hunting. It is a cynical and highly profitable niche industry in South Africa and enjoys a powerful lobby in high places. It is also supported by a seemingly insatiable demand for these guaranteed hunts, particularly from Europe and North America.

Captive breeding conditions

Wildlife campaigner Ian Michler has been exposing the brutality of the industry and calling for its demise for more than 15 years. Blood Lions follows his story, but also draws on the observations of some of Africa’s most respected ecotourism and conservation personalities.

I asked him what first triggered his response to canned hunting and what keeps him lobbying for it to be shut down.

“During the 1990s, I lived in the Okavango Delta and my research there into trophy hunting took me to the canned hunting farms of South Africa. For anyone who has an ecological understanding of the natural world, to witness territorial and apex predators being kept under intensive agricultural conditions is horrifying. And then to find out that they are being bred to be killed by hunters in confined areas defies all sense of integrity.

“I got to see and understand very quickly that there is no basis or justification for this type of behaviour, other than human greed and complete ignorance, that is. And there is also a degree of deception by many of the operators involved so it became obvious why I should stay involved.”

Progress – a long and bumpy road

It has been a long and often bumpy road that Michler and his colleagues have followed, a road that never seems to end. “Do you think that there has been progress towards shutting the industry down?” I ask him.

“There has most certainly been progress,” he responds forcefully. “For example, the recent undertaking by several global airlines never to carry lion trophies or lion parts out of the country, and the Australian government’s decision to ban imports of trophies and body parts demonstrate the growing opposition.

“The release of Blood Lions is another example,” says Michler. “Pippa Hankinson, the inspirational director of Regulus Vision, has been the force behind the film. And this, together with dedicated assistance from a core team of filmmakers and campaigners including Wildlands Conservation Trust, has given us a real opportunity to raise greater awareness at various levels across the world.

“We know there is no conservation value to the breeding practices and it’s an extremely poor, even irresponsible, way to try to educate people about lions and their ecology. There are very few true sanctuaries, and they only exist because of the breeding.

“In addition, my experience is that the vast majority of the world finds breeding lions to be killed by thrill seekers in canned hunts completely inappropriate behaviour. Under these circumstances, there is no logical reason as to why we cannot make further progress with the decision-makers here in South Africa.”

Professional hunters frequently talk about the huge financial contribution they make to the national tourism coffers, but when you compare the actual figures against the total revenue from tourism, trophy hunting is a very small portion. And then canned hunting is again a very small fraction of total hunting revenues.

“This seems to make a lie of the breeders and canned hunting lobby’s claim?” I ask Michler.

He agrees. “When one contextualises the amount generated by the predator breeders and canned hunters, the financial contribution is miniscule. The canned lion hunting contribution is a tiny fraction of 1% of the almost R100-billion South African tourism generates.

“In addition, visitor numbers also tell the story: of the over nine million international foreign arrivals that come into South Africa annually, a mere 9 000 or so are trophy hunters and of these, about only 1 000 or so will be to kill ions in canned hunts.”

Damaging Brand South Africa

“While on the subject of tourism,” I remark, “in the film you have quite a long discussion with the South Africa minister of tourism, Derek Hanekom. He seems distinctly uneasy with canned hunting and sees it as potentially damaging to Brand South Africa. In fact he seemed to suggest that it had already damaged our international reputation as a nation with a proud conservation history. Would you go so far as to call him an ally in your quest?”

“Yes,” Michler responds confidently. “We, the filmmakers and the campaign team that is, view the government in general as an ally as they would not want to damage South Africa’s global reputation on any level. The good thing is that Minister Hanekom and many others understand that by allowing these practices, Brand South Africa is being increasingly damaged around the world.

“My sense is that once the decision-makers understand the full picture and grasp the degree of growing opposition, this will be reflected in the way they respond going forward.”

It’s all about the trophy

At a point in the film Michler says, “You can’t look at predator breeding and canned hunting without addressing the greater trophy hunting issue. At the end of the day people who want to hunt a lion are driven by the same thing: the trophy.” I ask him to elaborate.

“Having researched and written about the trophy hunting industry for almost two decades now, I have come to understand that ultimately, for the vast majority of trophy hunters, it is actually only about the thrill of the kill and then the prize of the trophy. No matter what type of hunt it is, the trophy is non-negotiable. So almost all lion hunters come to Africa in search of that prize; the argument between them simply becomes one about the conditions under which they bagged theirs.

“There is an additional link. The unfortunate part for the wider trophy hunting industry around the world is that they are now stained by canned hunting operations. They could have closed them down ages ago if they had chosen to do so. But they didn’t. Some issued statements against the practice but most of them merely backed away and stayed on the sidelines.

“This has significantly contributed towards the flourishing of the industry. And we now see the likes of PHASA [Professional Hunters Association of South Africa] getting in on the act by trying to justify lion killing through the nuances of word play. It is foolish to attempt a distinction between ‘canned’ and ‘captive’ hunting when it is clear that whatever word one uses, predators are being bred in captivity to be killed in captivity.

“However, one of the positive developments is that we are now starting to see professional hunters making strong stands on ethical grounds against the practices. This may well cause splits within the hunting bodies.

“There are distinctions between sustainable hunting, fair-chase hunting and canned or captive hunting, and given that hunting remains a part of our conservation thinking in South Africa, the film recognises this and is targeted at the breeding and canned or captive hunting sector.”

Botswana’s stand – a great example

I remark that it is interesting to see a country like Botswana taking a stand against trophy hunting and seeing it as an inappropriate practice in this day and age. But they are the only ones really. Even Kenya, which has long prohibited hunting of wildlife, seems to have a powerful groundswell of support for its reintroduction.

“Could this happen?” I ask.

“I think the Botswanan government has shown immense vision,” Michler responds. “And their decision was based on science and conservation as well as the comparable community and economic benefits measured over decades. However, there are vested interests that will play an obstructionist role as they seek to ensure the transition to a non-hunting regime is made as difficult as possible. As is the case when any significant legislative change is introduced, there will be difficult periods for all parties.

“And no, I don’t see hunting being reintroduced in Kenya anytime soon. The link between declining wildlife populations and a ban on trophy hunting in that country has no scientific basis – it is a self-serving argument perpetuated by the hunting lobby. There are a host of socio-economic factors, all compounded by a lack of planning as well as a succession of corrupt governments, that have contributed to Kenya’s woes. And let’s not forget, for many of Kenya’s population groups, hunting wild animals is not part of their cultural heritage.”

Getting into the head of a hunter

One of the more intriguing scenes of the film takes place at an international hunting trade fair in the US. Aside from the mind-boggling amount and variety of weaponry and hunting gear on display, there is also clearly no shortage of hunters happy to speak about their “sport”, often implying that without them all of conservation would simply collapse.

Time and again you hear the claim that hunting purpose-bred lions takes the pressure off wild lion populations and therefore they (the hunters) are supporting conservation. “If lions were not bred for hunting,” it was claimed, “they simply would not be born at all so at least we are giving them a purpose in life.” One female hunter (and there are a surprising number in a supposedly male-dominated industry) said, “I am a wildlife lover, therefore I am a hunter,” while another fellow remarked on “the opportunity to harvest some of God’s creatures”. And most of them say it is not about the killing – and yet that is the desired and inevitable end result.

For a non-hunter it is hard to get inside the head of a hunter, particularly a trophy hunter, and to get any clear idea of why their “sport” is so important to them. Michler has spent so much time meeting and talking to hunters from all over the world, so I ask if he can help to understand the hunter’s psyche.

“I guess this is the very nub of why the debate becomes so heated,” he says. “Firstly, the hunting debate deep down is not about economics and communities and conservation – it is actually about philosophy and a world view not dissimilar to the way debates on the death penalty, same-sex marriage, abortion or racism rage around the world.

“The comments you mention above are views being expressed about the way these people see and understand their world. The science and economics, which is available in support of all views, then becomes part of the bias. The film then also asks viewers whether the only purpose lions have is to be born for hunters to kill, whether their interpretation of hunting is Biblical, and whether only hunters are able to be lovers of wildlife.”

Exposing the bad – a risky business?

One of the central arcs of the film follows a genuine hunter on a trophy hunt on a farm specialising in canned hunting. These are extremely tense scenes, shot through with menace. Michler has been in many of these highly charged situations and I ask to what extent is it all bluster and bullying, or whether he has feared for his safety at times.

“There is certainly a theme of brutality that runs through these practices,” he says. “Bullying or not, the moment can be very disturbing, but I would like to think that when push comes to shove one’s personal safety is not at risk.”

At the end of the film I am left with a sense that Blood Lions really does allow the voice of the lion to be heard. Certainly this film does nothing to glorify the hunter and I have no doubt that there will be angry responses to its release. I ask Michler where will it be shown and what he hopes will come out of it?

“The film will be shown globally,” he responds. “We have already been accepted into a number of international film festivals and there will be screenings in parliaments around the world as well as to select audiences of decision-makers.

The campaign will also embrace bringing awareness at various levels, including schools and universities. “There is sure to be opposition as the operators and their clients at the core of canned hunting will see us undermining their livelihoods and their cherished pastime. We hope to go beyond that as ultimately Blood Lions seeks to bring an end to the exploitative breeding of predators and the killing of them under canned or captive conditions.”

I Fell For The Cub Petting Conservation Lie – Don’t Do The Same

In February 2015 I left the UK for the adventure of a lifetime – 2 weeks volunteering in South Africa with lion cubs. As an avid animal lover I thought that there cannot be anything better than sitting in the sun playing with cubs all in the name of conservation, but I quickly realised how wrong and naïve I had been.

I booked my trip through a UK agency aimed at young adults looking to volunteer around the world for conservation or to simply work abroad on their gap year. The top rated trip was “Live with Lion Cubs” and it appealed instantly. I spent a year of my life planning my trip and paying off the huge fee – £1,250.00 for trip alone + flights at around £500.00. I used all of my savings and every penny I received for my 21st birthday as I thought saving lions would be a great way to spend it. I was not allowed to know the name of the park until the agency had received my non-refundable deposit, but it was not actually until a month before my trip they disclosed it was a well known lion park on the outskirts of Brits.

Prior to my trip, my knowledge of the canned hunting and cub petting industries was extremely limited. I had come across the CBS expose about Lion Park around a week before I was due to depart, but I was reassured the park was in no way involved with hunting and that they held all of the correct licenses from the South African authorities. I have since requested to see such documentation on numerous occasions but it has yet to be disclosed to me. We were told the lions were bred for conservation and would eventually be released into reserves around Africa.

I arrived at the park on 2nd February 2015 with my hopes and my head high only to be treated like an idiot for the entire two weeks. It was one of the most hostile, unwelcoming environments I have ever found myself in and that was due solely to the staff. I was made to feel stupid if I asked a question about the lions and often laughed at if I chose not to partake in moving animal carcasses. The owners of the park were friendly for the first few days but soon started to avoid me and not engage in any conversation with volunteers, with the exception of those who had stayed previously. There was a real sense of hierarchy at the park with previous volunteers acting as though they were the park’s answer to the Lion Whisperer, yet the utter naivety and lack of initiative was astounding. For my first 4 nights, there were 5 lion cubs weighing 8-10kg each being kept overnight in a small dog kennel. We would pile them on top of each other and lock them up from 5pm-8am the next morning which was an action I instantly questioned. On my first night I was reassured that they were due to be moved into ‘The Devils’ enclosure but there was not enough room until some of The Devils were also moved to larger enclosures; it was 4 days before anything was done. This was the first thing that made we wish I could fly home that instant.

The following two weeks consisted mainly of passing 3 week old lion cubs around tourist groups of around 10 people, including school children, multiple times a day. The cubs were exhausted and were only allowed to be fed at certain times of the day, no matter how hungry they seemed to be. The guilt I felt when I had a cub suckling on my finger looking for food was immeasurable and yet I was in no position to help. It is important to note that during our induction talk, the owners noted that they were actively cutting down cub breeding which would mean less experiences open to volunteers and tourists, yet since I left the park in February at least 6 new cubs have arrived, including two tigers. On another occasion we were walking through The Devils’ enclosure and noticed a young cub with a wire wrapped around his paw – every time the gate opened the wire tightened. We unravelled the cub and tied up the wire as best we could and instantly told a Ranger, but it took at least 2 hours for anything to be done.

During my stay and as my suspicions grew, I found a Facebook group called “Volunteers in Africa Beware” and came across horror stories from previous volunteers. This included having their phones searched after speaking out and sexual harassment from the Rangers. I found this incredibly easy to believe after having been on the park for a week so I contacted my Dad and told him about my worries. I was so afraid of speaking out that my Dad was offering to fly to Johannesburg to collect me or even giving me his credit card details so I could make an escape on my own. For my second week I had trips away from the park booked for almost every day so I chose to wait it out and fly home after two weeks as planned. During this time I was warned by various individuals from the online community that I should avoid posting anything negative on social media as they usually checked our sites – I was in a state of panic as I found reviews on Trip Advisor that backed up those claims so I kept myself to myself and did not raise any questions I thought might put me in danger. Since my return, the staff have made a point about how I did not question their intentions and now I’m sure it is clear why I made that decision.

It would have been easy to come home and pretend that my two weeks were great and continue to post my “lion selfies” on social media, but the gut wrenching realisation that I may have contributed to the canned hunting industry was too much to bear so I decided to share my story through a blog. I also pursued a refund through the agency under grounds of misrepresentation and inadequate health and safety standards but their response was utterly laughable. I stated that every penny I expected from my refund would be donated towards charities fighting canned hunting and they have refused to give me anything back. As an agency that “prides itself in its support of its volunteers” my claims were refuted and they not only implied I was a liar who was in a relationship with a staff member, but also that I was intolerant of other cultures. My jaw dropped to the floor as I read their response to my complaint. I reassured them that since I am in long term relationship there was absolutely nothing going on with any staff members and I even sent them evidence of an ongoing relationship between a Ranger and a regular volunteer – they chose to ignore this. With regard to implying I am intolerant of other cultures, I reassured them that this was not the case and sent them evidence of a staff member mocking a religion on Instagram – again this was ignored. They told me how they were surprised to find I had had such an awful time since my social media seemed positive and I therefore questioned why they had been checking my pages and why I was not informed they would be doing so before I booked, needless to say they ignored this too.

The health and safety aspects of my complaint included questioning why an entire container of chlorine was tipped into the swimming pool whilst my friend was swimming and the agency informed me this procedure was done at 7am every morning and were therefore unsure as to why we were in the pool so early. In response, I urged them to check the CCTV footage where they would in fact be able to see I was telling the truth and we were swimming late in the afternoon, their response? Nothing.

I think the moment I finally snapped was when I looked through my photos and was reminded of a day on Ranger duty where we had visited the “sister park”. I had completely forgotten this day, during which we took 15+ crates of chicken to feed the park’s lions that were being held on the sister park before being transferred to “a reserve in the Congo”. (I now realise such a reserve is highly unlikely to even exist.) I was absolutely astounded to find that the sister park’s website offers a vast list of hunting opportunities and even that “large game can be hunted by prior arrangement”. I do not condone hunting of any kind and I felt sick to my stomach knowing I had stepped foot on that park without being made aware of this fact. Volunteers are constantly reassured that the park do not promote hunting and nor do they make a distinction between “ethical and unethical hunting” yet they are keeping lions on a park that offers exactly that. I was speechless.

The response to the blog has been mostly positive, yet we constantly receive abusive messages from past, present and even future volunteers. It seems the need for a “lion selfie” greatly outweighs the need to save these beautiful animals from extinction. People simply do not want to accept the fact that cub petting is widely discredited and that no park that truly contributes to the welfare and conservation of lions will offer this interaction. I have been told I’m a sadistic liar who is making it all up out of boredom, amongst other insults, and it truly baffles me that someone could believe I would do such a thing.

I cannot undo my time volunteering with lion cubs and ultimately perpetuating cub petting and breeding farms, which is why I vowed to take a stand and share my story to as many people that would listen. I made a massive mistake in choosing this trip and that was made clear during my first week at the park. The agency could not have offered me a more disappointing response and I am currently working on a case with a solicitor to try and get at least an ounce of justice for these lions. When I sat down to write this article the overwhelming memories came flooding back, as did the unbearable guilt, which ultimately reminds me why I am doing this.

When I saw that Blood Lions was due to be released it dawned on me that this could finally be the big break these lions need and deserve and I cannot wait to watch it and see how breeding parks respond. I survived my two weeks of hell and I’m using them to fight against canned hunting and cub petting and I urge other volunteers to accept the truth and join the pride.