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Dead Lion Walking: What Tourists Should Know About Canned Lion Hunts

Canned lion hunts are still big in South Africa and the perpetrators often hide under the conservationist umbrella.

There’s nothing like a movie to inspire the desire to travel. Despite the critics’ verdict, Disney’s new live action remake of “The Lion King” might do just that. With its awe-inducing computer-generated virtual reality landscapes — complete with thundering waterfalls, dramatic canyons, grassy savannah, and dusty plains — the movie will likely stir in many viewers the desire to go see Africa’s sangria, cantaloupe and aubergine-hued sunsets — not to mention those regal lions and other wildlife — for themselves.

The chance to visit or volunteer at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa so they can pet, bottle feed or walk with orphaned lion cubs is a tempting one for most animal lovers. But sadly, many well-intentioned visitors and volunteers are under the illusion that they are contributing to real conservation efforts, that they are hand-rearing cubs that will eventually be released into the wild.

But animal lovers should beware. According to the South Africa-based Blood Lions organization, in South Africa the vast majority of ostensibly orphaned baby lions in facilities posing as sanctuaries are actually torn from their mothers at birth and are being bred for the canned hunting industry, a perfectly legal and highly lucrative industry in South Africa.

So, what is canned hunting? It’s a long and sad story, and it begins from the moment the animal is born. Canned lions (it’s increasingly common with cheetahs as well) are animals that are bred and born in captivity on a lion ‘farm’. The cubs are removed from their mothers at two to three-weeks old, sometimes younger, and sold to so-called sanctuaries where tourists and volunteers can pet them. These facilities will claim that the cubs are orphans or were abandoned by their mothers and that the facility is contributing to conservation. When the cubs become too big for cuddling they are sold again, this time to another facility where tourists can ‘walk with lions’. Finally, the lions are sold to zoos or trophy hunters, who will shoot them at close range in a fenced enclosure, or in a ‘canned hunt’. The hunters proudly take the skins — and sometimes the head — home as trophies while the bones are sent to Asia for use in the Chinese traditional medicine trade.

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