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Guest Blog: ‘The Artwork That Brought An End To The Captive Lion Industry’

Written by Martin Aveling and published with permission.

Pastel pencil drawing of a lion cub in a tin can by wildlife artist, Martin Aveling.

‘The Artwork That Brought An End To The Captive Lion Industry’

WOAH… hello there, Ego! Let’s rephrase that…

An artwork that, alongside many others, helped campaigners successfully communicate a long-held view that an industry of captive bred lions is not conducive to the health of wild lion populations, nor is it popular amongst the public at large. 

There, that’s more like it.

At the beginning of May 2021, the South African government conceded that canned hunting does not contribute to conservation, and announced that measures would be put in place to end the captive lion breeding industry in the country. This came less than a year after the organisation, Blood Lions, launched their 800 Voices for 800 Lionscampaign, where they used art in a further attempt to appeal to policy makers on a human level, and thus played a part in changing the course of history for lions in South Africa.

What Blood Lions did in identifying the value of art as a tool for communication was shrewd and must be applauded, and indeed imitated.

Let it be made abundantly clear that the true heroes in this story are the campaigners. Blood Lions were amongst those who gathered scientific evidence, scrutinised the detail, alerted the public and did not relent until they were granted an audience with policy makers. Although they requested a meeting with the Minister for Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, they were not granted an audience with her but were given the opportunity to present to the High-Level Panel. At this point Blood Lions knew that they had to make an impression, and so not only did they present their scientific research to the High-Level Panel, they also turned to art to lend a helping hand. ‘#800Lions’ seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, capitalising on many years of tireless campaigning since the release of the ‘Blood Lions’ documentary film in 2015. 

Effective wildlife artivism makes the experience of addressing difficult subjects more palatable, but without compromising on sincerity. Preaching can, at times, be quite off-putting, even to those who are mostly converted to the cause. Passion can sometimes be misconstrued as anger, and a person using words can come across unhinged and confrontational. That is unless those words have been cleverly crafted into a word poem, or put onto canvas with paint. If listening feels difficult, then art is the reward for doing so.

In wildlife conservation, art can be so much more than just a tool for fundraising, but rather act as PR to help conservation activists plead the case to the masses and politicians alike. It is a powerful medium, and with great power comes great responsibility. As the artist, one must always be reminded of ego. After all, I just came along and drew a pretty picture, which is what I love to do anyway. It is through true partnership and by drawing on the expertise of all parties that the best outcome is achieved. Artists have an ability to see the big picture and translate that into smaller ones. We must be allowed to take the lead on creating, however when it comes to the real conservation work, we should defer to the experts and be guided by their knowledge.

When I drew this piece last year, I included an expiry date on the can to represent the age at which this lion cub could expect to lose its life in a canned hunt. Having a real date on the can would also allow us to revisit when the time comes and assess the state of the industry of captive bred lions. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect that just one year into the countdown there would be an announcement that the industry is due to be shut down.

Kudos to you, Blood Lions. This news has made my year. 

More information:

Blood Lions would like to thank all 1,300 artists who submitted their Lion Art to our #800Lions campaign.