South Africa has upwards of 10 000 lions, but those number s conceal a classification system whereby breeders or farms class them as captive, managed and wild. If you look at the real numbers, only about 3000 lions are truly wild, with 7000 others residing on private farms and of those, a large portion are kept in stable-like conditions under terrible conditions.

When you take a closer look at what are essentially commercial breeding programs you’ll see a very different side of what some like to call ‘conservation’, where by cubs are used for their cute factor, older lions are seen in the ‘wild’ as showpieces and mature lions are hunted as trophies; even worse are the hundreds of lions slaughtered like cattle for the booming lion bone trade in the East – they use it for aphrodisiacs often referred to as tiger wine –.

Essentially, a large portion of ‘captive’ lions in South Africa are used for one thing, canned lion hunting. Big game farmers stand to make huge profits through this practice and folks ‘high up’ have a vested interest – read, back-handed deals – in the proliferation of this practice and it’s marketing to North Americans and Europeans who just can’t get enough of the ‘wild hunt’.

That’s where Ian Michler comes in; for the last 15 years he has been campaigning for the abolishment of canned lion hunting and fighting those who would want you to believe that trophy hunting injects masses of cash into conservation and attracts scores of tourists. In fact, trophy hunting makes up an infinitesimally small portion of the R100 billion tourism trade in SA and well, of the nine million annual tourists we attract, only around 9000 of those come for trophy hunting.

“During the 1990s, I lived in the Okavango Delta and my research there into trophy hunting took me to the canned hunting farms of South Africa. For anyone who has an ecological understanding of the natural world, to witness territorial and apex predators being kept under intensive agricultural conditions is horrifying. And then to find out that they are being bred to be killed by hunters in confined areas defies all sense of integrity,” Michler told Untold Africa, a wildlife conservation and awareness initiative.

“I got to see and understand very quickly that there is no basis or justification for this type of behaviour, other than human greed and complete ignorance that is. And there is also a degree of deception by many of the operators involved so it became obvious why I should stay involved.”

“When one contextualises the amount generated by the predator breeders and canned hunters, the financial contribution is miniscule. The canned lion hunting contribution is a tiny fraction of one per cent of the almost R100-billion South African tourism generates.In addition, visitor numbers also tell the story: of the over nine million International Foreign Arrivals that come into South Africa annually, a mere 9,000 or so are trophy hunters and of these, about only 1,000 or so will be to kill ions in canned hunts.”

In a new documentary, Blood Lions, we can follow Michler’s story and see firsthand what is really happening behind the scenes of our local lion ‘industry’, as well as get some insights from environmental experts.

Have a look at the trailer and be sure to keep an eye out for the doccie, it’s sure to be an eye-opener.