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Time SA put lions bred for bullet in conservation sights

THE GLOBAL EYE WORLD opinion is so firmly stacked against South Africa’s policy of allowing the hunting of captive bred lions that even the world’s largest hunting organisation has now banned the Professional Hunters Association of SA representatives from marketing lion hunts at its annual conference. It has also refused to register lion trophies in its record books. To be frank, this is nothing but a national embarrassment.

When the US hunting umbrella organisation Safari Club International SCI met in Las Vegas last weekend, it stunned the hunting world by outright rejecting captive lion imports from South Africa with immediate effect. SCI now says it “opposes hunting of African lions bred in captivity”. If the hunting associations have finally found their consciences, why can’t we?

Why is it that South Africa has watched as the US, Australia, France and the Netherlands have banned the importation of captive bred lion trophies and other iconic species, not to mention the 45 airlines that have placed embargoes on all Big Five hunting trophies? How did it happen that British Airways, Air France, American Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, and Emirates became more principled about our wildlife than we are?

South Africa is supposed to be a country that prides itself on ethical tourism and markets the country with amazing images of its wildlife and nature. More and more what the world sees is a government policy that continues to defend breeding lions for the bullet, where the majestic “king of the beasts” has been reduced on 200 South Africa farms to nothing but walking target practice.

It is not as though we were not duly warned. Our own former minister of tourism Derek Hanekom made it quite clear that captive bred lion hunting is damaging Brand South Africa: “Is this something that we feel proud of as a nation? My feeling is: I’m not proud of it. I think we should consider stronger measures to control, if not to ban, the breeding of lions in captivity”.

What I find amazing is that even President Donald Trump recently characterised lion hunting as a horror show in a recent tweet saying that his own department would be hard pressed to change his mind that “this horror show in any way helps the conservation of elephants or any other animal”. He was specifically referring to the hunting of wild lions and elephant in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Imagine what he would tweet about the horror show of shooting a lion for $20 000 R240 000 in an enclosed area a lion that has been bred for the bullet?

It is amazing that such a conservative US president, whose two sons are avid big game hunters, has chosen to side with the conservationists and go up against his own department, the hunters, and the National Rifle Association lobby.

Just consider that the US hunting industry is immensely powerful and forms a voting bloc with the NRA of 4 million votes, making it at times a kingmaker. There is only one explanation US and global public opinion is so outraged at the continuing practice of lion hunting that their pressure has become greater than those who carry the gun and fund political campaigns. It really shows that the tide has finally turned.

But we don’t have to look across oceans for the criticism of our current captive-bred lion policy our neighbours have spoken out. Botswana’s Environment Minister Tshekedi Khama pulled no punches when he was interviewed on the internationally acclaimed award-winning documentary Blood Lions and said: “We get no second chances”.

How about the fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature 16 000 leading conservation scientists at its last World Conservation Congress requested its director general to encourage the South Africa government to draft and enact legislation by 2020 to terminate lion breeding for the purposes of hunting.

The solution put to our Department of Environment DEA by numerous conservation organisations is really quite simple – phase out captive bred lion hunting over the next three years. Seeing as the 200 South African farms that are breeding lions for the bullet cannot release the lions into the wild for many reasons, their stock should be counted by the DEA. Male and female lions must be kept separate and not allowed to breed. The remaining lions can be hunted over the next three years and then the practice must be banned entirely.

As for those tourist outlets that market their cute and cuddly lion petting experiences, they should no longer be allowed to send those cubs once they are grown to the hunting farms to be hunted a destiny many of them face.

Even that national embarrassment was exposed on the acclaimed US investigative show 60 Minutes when 18.4 million Americans watched Clarissa Ward expose how many of our lion cubs are sold from petting outlets to be hunted. It is time for us to find our conscience and do the right thing.