The lion-hunting industry made global headlines after the American Walter James Palmer shot Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, causing great controversy.
At home the documentary Blood Lions had tongues wagging. It showed how lions lived in terrible conditions and were abused. Canned lion hunting also causes great controversy, with more than 1 000 lions being shot in this manner every year.
Experts agree: It is time to set the lion industry straight. That is why the South African Predator Breeding Association (SAPBA) contacted Prof Melville Saayman and his team at TREES (Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society) at the North-West University’s Potchefstroom Campus to investigate the value of the lion industry in South Africa. This study, which will focus mainly on the main breeding areas of North West and the Free State, will also determine how many lions are part of the industry, as numbers vary between 4 000 and 6 000.
“A ban on hunting in Zimbabwe and the accompanying loss of income for Zimbabweans mean that approximately 2.3 million children are now deprived of the necessary aids. This means that the education sector is suffering, it means that bread is taken from their mouths. It means that 2.3 million children are worse off and their current low quality of life has deteriorated even more as a result of a bad decision by the government,” said Saayman.
“We can already see how poaching is increasing and we see unemployment increasing as well. This is not a healthy situation.”
According to Saayman, the Blood Lions documentary portrayed a rather skewed picture of the industry, but also succeeded in putting the spotlight on offences that need to be wiped out.
“Blood Lions created a bad impression of the industry and one of our challenges will be to rectify the situation. There are undesirable practices that harm the whole industry. However, this can be attributed to only a few people, but still leads to the fact that misperceptions about the industry are created. There are one or two bad apples in the lion cage.”
Saayman further says that South Africa’s lion population is far from showing problems, but more can be done to distribute the lions effectively and also to utilise them better.
“We will also determine what must be done with the surplus of lions, because it has to be determined what the best will be for the market. Some of the lions have to go back to the parks and some must be introduced to new areas to improve the gene pool. We have a healthy number of lions in the country and thanks to our breeding programmes we are not in a dangerous situation, but we will have to see what is going to happen with the surplus lions,” he explained.
“There are various possibilities as far as the surplus lions are concerned. They can serve an educational purpose, they can play a major role in ecotourism, like walking with lions and, as was mentioned before, they can be distributed to improve the gene pool in the country. Of course we can also export lions to countries where there is a shortage of lions. This will mean that those countries will have to guarantee that they will care for the lions. We did that in the past, but then the animals were poached.”
Saayman also praised SAPBA’s commitment to improving the industry, as well as to striving for a better future for lions in the country: “Cecil hurt the industry a lot. Blood Lions hurt the industry. The initiation of this study shows that the industry is serious about erasing the bad patches, and that will be to the benefit of the whole industry.”