Sixteen years of research and lobbying against South Africa’s predator breeding and ‘canned’ lion hunting practices recently reached a climax for Plettenberg Bay resident and Eden to Addo director Ian Michler – Mellisa Reitz reports

The story of Ian Michler’s quest is revealed in the hard-hitting documentary Blood Lions that had its first screenings at the Durban International Film Festival last week.

The 85-minute film, which received standing ovations and an overwhelming global response, follows the journey of investigative journalist Michler, and that of American hunter Rick Swazey, who buys a lion online and then comes out to South Africa to see how easy it is to shoot it.

Many well-known conservationists and welfare experts are interviewed in the film, providing a compelling narrative that exposes the horrors behind the multi- million dollar industry and the false conservation claims made by operators.

The film also exposes cub- petting and ‘walking with lions’ operations as nothing other than lucrative commercial operations with no conservation merits at all.

Locally produced by Regulus Vision in collaboration with the Wildlands Conservation Trust, Blood Lions is directed by Bruce Young and well-known filmmaker Nick Chevallier.

The film has been accepted at film festivals worldwide and will be screened in the European and Australian Parliaments.

The Blood Lions campaign, which aims at bringing an end to canned hunting and the exploitative breed- ing of predators on farms across South Africa, will also be given a significant boost by the film’s release.

The inhumane practice of breeding lions for the sport of hunting them under captive conditions is still, surprisingly, legal in South Africa. Although previous Environmental minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk called the practice “a cancer” in our country, present minister Edna Molewa seems to think otherwise.

She claims that canned hunting is banned and refers instead to the practices as “captive” hunting, stating that the latter is legal if the animal is not tranquillized.

However, almost all conservationists disagree with her. They claim the word- play is an attempt to hide the reality: 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 and about 1,100 are being killed for the burgeoning lion bone trade in the East.

With up to 7,000 lions in captivity across the country, there are roughly as few as 3,000 left in the wild, and the industry continues to grow with the Eastern Cape region being one of the busiest.

Just last year, well-known Port Elizabeth lion park Seaview was refused its annual rates rebate after Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality accused it of participating in canned hunting by selling lions to the Cradock hunting reserve Tam Safaris, and 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,” says Michler, who adds that no lion ecologist or recognised conservation agency supports these breeding facilities.

Michler, who is the special consultant to Blood Lions, has taken the campaign beyond South African borders, addressing parliamentarians in Australia and European countries to raise awareness.

As a result, the Australian government placed a Permanent ban on the importation of all lion parts and trophies into Australia earlier this year. He hopes that both Europe and the USA will soon take a similar stance.

“Although the global response to the film and campaign has been overwhelming, we are not yet at the end of the road as we still need to change legislation and ban this practice in South Africa altogether,” says Michler, adding that although there is no progress yet, our government has now shown a willingness to engage with the campaign.

Screenings of Blood Lions, hosted by Eden to Addo, will be scheduled for the Garden Route – visit www.bloodlions.org  for dates and information,