Canned Hunting

Q: What does the term canned hunting refer to?

A: Canned hunting is shooting captive bred and/or tame animals in confined areas. It covers other definitions such as captive hunting, high-fence hunting and ranch hunting as well.
The term canned hunting came into popular use in 1998 after the Cook Report, a British current affairs television programme screened on ITV, which featured footage of a lioness being shot several times within a small enclosed area. The term soon became synonymous with any form of trophy hunting where hunters shot trophy animals within confined areas ensuring they had no or little chance of escape. And today, canned hunting is widespread in South Africa where large numbers of wild animals are being bred in captivity specifically to be shot.

Q: And how does canned hunting differ from captive hunting or ranch hunting?

A: For many people, there is no difference between these terms. The terms ‘captive hunting’ or ‘ranch hunting’ has been introduced by the professional hunting bodies in an attempt to get away from the negative image associated with canned hunting. But in essence, captive hunting is as it reads; wild animals are being bred in captivity to be killed in captivity or confined areas.

Q: What is ‘fair chase’ hunting?

A: Fair chase hunting refers to the traditional form of trophy hunting whereby professional hunters and their clients hunt in wilderness areas large enough for the free-ranging animals being pursued to have a chance of escape. These hunts can take up to 21 days, whereas canned hunts can be done in as little as 48 hours. Amongst the wider hunting fraternity, many fair-chase hunters regard canned or captive hunting as unethical or unsportsmanlike.

Q: How many lions are killed in canned or captive hunts annually?

A: Attaining precise statistics in this regard is also something of a hit and miss affair as there seem to be loopholes in the reporting systems and different ways of reading the data. The principal sources for this information are the South African Predator Association, The Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and then the various government and provincial bodies. Between them, the statistics indicate that at the time of the film’s launch, anywhere between 800 and 1 000 lions were being shot annually in South Africa. Just over 50% of these hunters were from the USA. We believe that because of the Blood Lions campaign, this number may well be lower now. However, we are also aware that the breeders and canned hunters are looking at new markets: China, Russia and many of the old Soviet era states, for example.

Q: Does canned hunting occur in any other African country?

A: Not officially, but there may be certain cases taking place in some of South Africa’s neighbours. Canned hunting is however big business in some states in the USA, especially Texas where there are numerous ranches offering exotic species to be killed by canned hunters.

Q: Does the hunting of captive bred lions take the pressure off wild lions?

A: The claim that hunting of captive bred lions takes pressure off wild lions must be challenged as there is no science on this at all. Canned hunting has merely opened up an entirely new market for hunters that would not have been able to afford a wild hunt. And where wild lion hunting has dropped away, this is only because bans on hunting have been introduced. In the countries that still allow wild lion hunting (Zimbabwe, Namibia and Tanzania for example), demand for permits outstrips the quota. And we also know that wild lion populations across Africa continue to decline.

Watch this short clip on Canned Hunting:

Predator Breeding

Q: How many lions and other predators are being kept in captivity across South Africa.

A: According to government and private sectors sources, it is thought there are over 200 farms and breeding facilities holding somewhere between 6 000 and 8 000 predators in captivity. Some believe this figure could be in excess of 10 000. The vast majority of these predators, possibly as many as 7 000, are lions. Other species include cheetah and leopard as well as a host of exotic animals such as tiger, jaguar and puma.

Q: Why do we not have a clearer idea of the numbers of predators in captivity?

A: Almost all the captive predators are kept in private facilities and the body that manages them is known as the South African Predator Association ( However, not every farm or facility that carries predators is obliged to be a member, and not every member provides the association with updated statistics. With regards to the authorities, the nine provinces should also have an idea of numbers as they issue permits for breeding, keeping and transporting, but we have found these sources seem to rely on the private sector for their information.

Q: Is it legal to breed predators on farms in South Africa?

A: Yes, as long as the farmer complies with the respective provincial legislation that focuses on minimum standards for fencing and enclosure sizes, it is legal to breed lions and other predators.

Q: What qualifications are needed to breed predators in South Africa?

A: To breed predators in South Africa there are no requirements with regards to understanding biology, animal husbandry, lion ecology or conservation in general. And as long as government regards the various revenue streams such as canned hunting and the lion bone trade as sustainable, it is also legal to trade in lions and their body parts.

Q: Why has predator breeding and canned hunting flourished in South Africa?

A: Primarily because every stakeholder – the government, provincial authorities, professional hunting and tourism bodies as well as conservation agencies have all turned a blind eye. As a result, the industries have grown significantly. Weak legislation, and in many cases a lack thereof, is another reason as the breeding of wild animals under farm conditions is an activity that falls neatly between the cracks in South Africa’s biodiversity and agricultural ministries. Because of this, the respective ministries, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries seem to be able to sidestep taking the ultimate responsibility.

Watch this short clip on Captive Lion Breeding:


Q: Is there any conservation value to breeding lions and predators in captivity?

A: In general, no. Very few of the facilities holding lions in South Africa are involved in the conservation of lions and none of the animals being kept in captivity can be used in relocation programmes. These captive lions are tame, human-imprinted and genetically contaminated. If lion ecologists and conservationists did need lions to start new populations, they would only use lions from wild stocks.

Q: Is there any merit in breeding lions in captivity for research purposes?

A: In general, no as researchers could use wild lions. And there are only a very few instances (during the making of the film, we were aware of only one study taking place using about 20 lions) of researchers using captive lions for specific projects such as disease analysis or genetic studies. In these cases, the number of lions required is merely a tiny fraction of the overall captive population. These projects choose to use captive lions because of convenience factors.

Q: To date, have any Lions been reintroduced into the wild from predator breeding farms in South Africa?

A: There has not been a successful lion reintroduction programme using captive bred and reared lions into any free-ranging park or reserve in South Africa. Lion conservationists warn that captive bred lions are not suitable for reintroduction programmes.

Q: Are there any examples of captive predators being used in conservation?

A: There are a few examples of predators being bred in captivity for conservation purposes. These projects, the Iberian lynx in Spain, the Amur leopard in Russia and China and the South China tiger project in South Africa for example involve species or sub-species on the brink of extinction. And unlike South Africa’s farms and other facilities, these projects are funded for proper relocation of animals and involve numerous scientists and ecologists working under strict peer-reviewed conditions.

Q: Is there any truth in the claims that this industry makes significant contributions to employment and the local communities?

A: While it is true that the breeders, canned hunters and farmers offer employment and create economic activity, these claims need to be contextualized. When viewed against the overall tourism sector in South Africa, the percentage contributions are tiny. The country currently receives over 9million International Arrivals annually (, and of these just over 9 000 are hunters ( The total contribution of tourism to the economy exceeds R95billion, while total hunting and game ranching activity is less than 6% of this. Canned lion hunting in turn is only a fraction of that. In addition, there is no research showing how any breeding facility or canned hunting operation has made any significant contribution to uplifting communities. It should also be noted that the vast majority of these operations are located on agricultural land or on the outskirts of urban areas.

Q: What is the current conservation status of lions across Africa?

A: According to the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lions are listed as Vulnerable. Over the last decade, there have been numerous attempts at establishing a continent-wide population and these studies vary between 18 000 and 25 000 animals. The numbers aside, nearly all agree that lions have vanished from over 80% of their historic range, and they now only occur in 28 African states. Because of the rapid decline in habitat and numbers, there are some that believe lions should be afforded greater protection by upgrading their status to that of Endangered.

Lion Bone Trade

Q: What is the lion bone trade about?

A: The lion bone trade is a relatively new revenue stream for the breeders and farmers and has come about as lion bones are now being used as an alternative to tiger bones in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM used tiger bones immersed in vats of liquid, often rice wine to produce a tonic called ‘tiger bone wine’ that was prescribed for rheumatism, arthritis and other joint and bone ailments. Because trade was impacting on wild tiger populations, the Chinese government banned the trade in tiger parts back in 1993.

Q: Has ‘tiger bone wine’ been medically proven to treat symptoms of joint and bone ailments?

A: Although ‘tiger bone wine’ has been used in TCM for at least 1 000 years or more, there are no known medicinal properties. Chinese practitioners believe that it is the calcium and protein found in the bone that acts as the healing properties. Recent research indicates that users are also buying 100g ‘tiger cakes’ (prices in 2014 were approximately $1 000 per cake) and using portions sprinkled into rice wine or whiskey in the belief that it improves sexual prowess.

Q: How many lions are killed annually for the lion bone trade?

A: The lion bone trade is a burgeoning component to wildlife trade and is supported by the South African government. At the time the film was launched in 2015, and according to the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and CITES, 1 094 lion carcasses were exported from South Africa in 2013. This is up from 287 carcasses in 2010 and a mere 60 individual bones that went out in 2008. In 2018, the DEA awarded a quota of 1 500 lion carcasses for export.

Q: How serious is the lion bone trade?

A: This trade needs to be taken very seriously as it may become a primary driver of the predator breeding industry. Given the history of wildlife trade markets, a legal trade in lion bones is highly likely to result in poaching pressure on wild populations.

Watch this short clip on the Lion Bone Trade:

Petting, Walking with Lions and Volunteering

Q: Do any of the facilities that offer petting and walking with lions have any conservation value?

A: No, these facilities are merely using lions as a lucrative revenue stream. In many cases, cubs are taken away from their mothers within the first week after birth and are then rented out or used to lure day visitors and volunteers. Once the cubs get to about four months old, they are then often used in ‘walking with lions’ programmes. Once adult, many will be sold to breeders and collectors, or they end up being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunts. None of these lions can ever be used in conservation projects.

Q: What questions should I ask, as a potential wildlife volunteer, to avoid unethical facilities in Africa?

A: 1. Ask the booking agent to tell you the exact name and place of the facility you will be visiting. And then check all the social media sites for comments and feedback on the facility.
2. Does the facility offer any form of human/animal interaction?
3. If it claims to be a sanctuary, do they offer life-long homes for animals?
4. Does the sanctuary trade in animals?
5. Have any of their animals been released into the wild? And if so, where and when?
6. If they make any conservation claims, ask to speak to the resident scientist, researcher or conservationist.

Q: What is your advice to prospective volunteers about working on the lion farms?

A: Firstly, volunteers need to understand that they will not be making any contribution to securing the future of lions. Raising cubs taken away from their mothers at a young age has nothing to do with conservation. Most of these lions are bred on the farms specifically to lure you as a worker. In essence, the volunteers end up paying the farmer to raise lions that are likely to end up being killed for the lion bone trade or in canned hunts. Most lion farms and other predator facilities are using false marketing to make significant sums of money out of volunteer programmes.

Q: What other options are open to volunteers wanting to make a conservation contribution?

A: There are many responsible alternative options that range from working with any number of globally recognized social welfare or educational NGO’s to the well-known conservation agencies. If in doubt, consult your local conservation authority or tourism body.

Watch this short clip on Wildlife Volunteering:

Watch this short clip on Wildlife Petting: 


A documentary feature film that blows the lid off claims made by the predator breeding and canned hunting industries.