THE head of South Africa’s professional hunters’ association has warned that the survival of the country’s wildlife hunting industry could be at risk as local and international public opinion turns ever more strongly against “canned” lion hunting.

Elaborating on a statement he issued last week, Profession- al Hunters Association of South Africa (Phasa) president Hermann Meyeridricks said this week that pressure was mounting steadily against the hunting industry especially hunts involving captive-bred lions.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the debate at our next annual general meeting in November, but we have to relook our posi- tion on captive-bred lion hunting and upping the standards further.”

Last week, soon after the Durban screening of a new documentary on the country’s captive-bred industry titled Blood Lions, Meyeridricks warned: “Phasa has to face the fact that the lion issue is put- ting at risk not only the reputation of professional hunting in South Africa but its very survival.

“Phasa’s current policy on the issue is, broadly speaking, that it recognizes the legality of and demand for captive-bred lion hunting, and is working with the predator breeders and government to improve its standards and conditions to a generally acceptable level.

“We have made little demonstrable progress on this front,” he said,

In a letter e-mailed to Phasa members, Meyeridricks says the campaign against trophy hunting has intensified.

“From my dealings with the media and the community it has become clear to me that those against the hunting of lions bred in captivity are no longer just a small if vociferous group of animal-rights activists.

“Broader society is no longer neutral on this question and the tide of public opinion is turning strongly against this form of hunting.

Voices

“Even within our own ranks, as well as in the hunting fraternity as a whole, respected voices are speaking out publicly against it.”

Some airlines and shipping lines were also refusing to transport hunting trophies.

‘Against this background, I have come to believe that, as it stands, our position on lion hunting is no longer tenable.

“The matter will be on the agenda again for our next annual general meeting and I appeal to you to give it your serious consideration, so that together we can deliver a policy that is defensible in the court of public opinion.”

According to a recent report to the government by predator researcher Dr. Paul Funston, there are now just 2 300 truly wild lions left in the country’s large national parks, along with another 800 “managed wild lions” living in 45 smaller parks around the country.

By contrast, there were now about 6 000 captive lions in 200 facilities, that were bred exclusively to raise money.

Funston and fellow re- searcher Minnelise Levendal of the CSIR suggest that unlike most other countries in Africa, the local lion population has grown by about 30% over the past three decades.

In a draft biodiversity management plan prepared for the national Department of Environmental Affairs, Funston and Levendal record that nearly 800kg of lion bones, 314 lion skulls and 626 lion skeletons were exported from South Africa to China, Laos and Vietnam between 2011 and 2012.

“The controversial trade in lion bones for the Asian market appears to be supplied by bones obtained as a legal by-product of the trophy hunting industry where the lions are almost exclusively captive bred.

“It would appear that wild lions in South Africa are safe from the body parts trade for as long as captive-bred lions are the source of the derivatives.”

Funston and Levendal suggest that of all the lion hunts in South Africa, only 1% could be considered to be wild lions.

The overwhelming number of hunted lions came from predator breeders.

These animals were mostly hunted on smaller areas of land.

Captive-bred hunts were also considerably cheaper than wild lion hunts, and 99% of these hunts were “successful”, compared with 51 %-96% success rates with wild hunts.