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Mass shooting of lions a new evil in captive breeding

It’s been a bloody time for the South African canned lion industry.

Last week, a lion “abattoir” was exposed on a farm in the Free State, where close to 100 lions were reportedly to be killed and their skeletons prepared for export to Asia.

Soon after news of the slaughter broke, a game reserve owner from Limpopo was mauled by one of his captive lions, Shamba. The lion was immediately shot, causing a social media outcry.

In a separate incident, six more captive lions were poisoned and their limbs cut off on another Free State lion-breeding farm, allegedly for use in tradition medicine.

Experts warn that the bloodshed – facilitated by the flourishing captive-bred lion industry and SA’s Department of Environmental Affairs’ recently implemented export quota of 800 lion skeletons a year – may just be the first sight of a new demon waking from the captive-bred lion industry.

The mass killing of captive- bred lions in the Free State was exposed after captive-bred lions were transported in crates to André Steyn’s farm, Wag-’* -Bietjie, to be killed and their flesh removed for the bone export trade. According to Beeld, a total of 73 lions had been shot last week, with more being transported to the Free State to suffer the same fate.

Blood Lions, which first published details of the Free State mass-slaughter, also reported that although a veterinarian should have supervised the killing of the animals, the driver of the truck shot the lions himself.

According to a source who works at a game farm in North West from where lions were “harvested”, no permits were issued for the transport of the lions from the property to the Free State.

The Free State provincial environmental authority confirmed that Steyn’s permits have since been revoked, but only after dozens of lions had already been killed.

Although shocking, the mass shooting of canned lions is completely legal in terms of the Department of Environmental Affairs-approved export quota of 800 lion skeletons from captive-bred animals.

The “harvesting” procedure from the department stipu- lated that, although managed at a national level, each province would evaluate applications for lions to be killed and exported separately, provided that valid and relevant permits were available and approved by the department.

The department’s and provincial authorities’ inadequate regulation of the bone trade, and the negative impact this would have on SA’s conservation status was highlighted in a recent report titled, “Cash Before Conservation: An Overview of the Breeding of Lions for Hunting and Bone Trade”, published by the Born Free Foundation in March this year, warned that the department was damning SA’s conservation reputation to benefit a small clique of breeders by allowing canned hunting, trade in lion bones and sale of rhino horn, while admitting its decisions are not backed by science or conservation information.

According to Ian Michler, consultant and campaign co-leader to Blood Lions, the lion slaughter is but the “reality of South Africa’s lion bone quota taking effect”.

He warns, however, that it could be an indication of an even bigger demon than canned hunting. “We are concerned that, contrary to claims from the government and the breeders and canned hunting operators that the lion bone industry is a by-product of canned hunting, the quota may well become one of the primary drivers of the breeding.”

Albi Modise, of the department, advised that the welfare of captive-bred lions was not their concern as it fell under the mandate of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, when asked whether the Free State lion slaughter was what the department had in mind when approving the lion skeletons export quota.