DURBAN: In the face of renewed criticism of canned lion hunting, the Professional Hunters Association has vowed to expel any members found to be involved in hunting or marketing captive-bred lions.

This follows a series of developments locally and internationally in the wake of the “Cecil the lion” controversy in Zimbabwe and recent global screenings of Blood Lions, a documentary on the multimillion-dollar predator breeding and canned lion hunting industry in South Africa.

Last month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced new curbs on the importing of lion hunting trophies into the US.

The Professional Hunters Association of SA said it had revised its previous position papers on captive-bred lions and would “no longer tolerate this form of hunting”.

The association said it would now distance itself from all captive-bred lion breeding and hunting. This would be until the South African Predator Association could convince the Professional Hunters and the International Union for Conservation of Nature that captive-bred lion hunting was “beneficial” to lion conservation. Association president Stan Burger said any member implicated in hunting or marketing captive-bred lions would be charged and expelled if found guilty.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service said it was concerned about the dramatic decline of lion populations in the wild and had decided to list two lion subspecies under the Endangered Species Act. Panthera leo leo, located in India and Africa, would be listed as endangered, while Panthera leo melanochaita, found in Africa, would be listed as threatened.

 Service director Dan Ashe said lion populations had declined by 43 percent over the last 20 years due to habitat loss, loss of prey base and retaliatory killing of lions by a growing human population.

“The lion is one of the planet’s most beloved species and an irreplaceable part of our shared global heritage,” said Ashe. “If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the African savannas and the forests of India, it’s up to all of us – not just the people of Africa and India – to take action.

“Sustainable trophy hunting as part of a well-managed conservation programme can and does contribute to the survival of the species in the wild, providing real incentives to oppose poaching and conserve lion populations,” said Ashe.

“We are going to strengthen our efforts to ensure those individuals – people who have acted illegally to deprive our children of their wildlife heritage – are not rewarded by receipt of wildlife permits in the future.”

Writing in the latest issue of the African Indaba hunting and conservation journal, editor Gerhard Damm said when hunters were increasingly caught “in the cross-hairs of the international stage”, the public still failed to appreciate the important connections between sustainable hunting and the conservation of many wildlife species.

He suggested the need for a credible and independent review of the conservation impacts of trophy hunting, including case studies on how hunting contributed to the conservation of wild landscapes.

Former Serengeti National Park ecologist Dr Mike Norton-Griffiths said the killing of Cecil the lion had polarised opinions.