The lion industry wants to get its house in order, according to Prof Melville Saayman, from the department of Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society at the University of the North-West.

The South African Predator Breeding Association (SAPBA) had contacted Saayman to investigate the value of the country’s lion breeding industry. The investigation would focus on the main breeding areas of the Free State and North West, and would also determine the number of lion kept by the industry. This was thought to be between 4 000 and 6 000, Saayman said.

Access to farms had been organised by SAPBA, he told Farmer’s Weekly. Breeders were reluctant to open their doors following films such as Blood Lions and the shooting of Cecil the lion.

“After the visits, we will suggest how to address any problems found. One almost feels it is too late and that we should have started earlier,” he said.

Most breeders were situated in the Free State and North West, according to him.

 “Each province has guidelines and we have to view a breeder [according to] the province’s guidelines. We are going with an open agenda.

“It is important… that we get statistics on the table that are verified, and not data that is thumb-sucked, as often happens.”

Saayman said that there was a lot of speculation about the value of the industry, but that most of it was inaccurate and generated by those opposed to the industry.

“We now have the chance to look at both sides,” he said, adding that the recent Blood Lions documentary portrayed a skewed picture of the industry, but nevertheless succeeded in indentifying offences that needed to be curbed.

The documentary shows lions living in poor conditions and revealed that more than 100 lions were used for canned hunting in South Africa per year, according to a release.

 “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,” Saayman said.

He added that more could be done to distribute South Africa’s lion population more evenly and utilise the animals, such as in improving gene pools and assisting in ecotourism.

Saayman praised SAPBA’s commitment to improving the industry. He said that the government had specific guidelines regulating the hunting of captive-bred lions, and that if farms fell within these guidelines, legally hunting lions on such farms did not constitute ‘canned’ hunting.