Eco-Tourists pay to raise cubs for slaughter

YOUNG eco-tourists from abroad are paying up to R50 000 to raise “orphaned” lion cubs so they can be rehabilitated into the wild – not knowing that the lions are actually mass-bred in captivity, then sold off for canned hunts.

The illegal trade in South African wildlife is also rife, with Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa saying yesterday that the country was battling to contain rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park, with l2 poacher groups active at any given time.

 Environmentalist Pippa Hankinson, who recently produced Blood Lions, an investigative documentary on the farming of lions in South Africa, said: “The volunteers arrive at OR Tambo Airport and are taken to the lion farms. Some become suspicious when they see so many ‘orphans’ on the farm, or that nearly 30 cubs are in one enclosure.

“But their questions are met with aggression.”

British volunteer Keeton Hill said he had booked through an agency and was placed at Ukutula, a lion park in North West province, where he spent two weeks looking after cubs.

 “We were told the lions were orphaned,” he said, “and that some were selected for research purposes while the older lions were released into the wild.”

He was alarmed by the number of newborn cubs at the facility and the lack of guidance the volunteers received.

His attempts to find out what really happened to the lions were met with “rude replies”, and when he wrote and asked what had happened to one particular lion called Kevin, an Ukutula employee allegedly replied, “none of you[r] damn business”.

Hankinson’s suspicions were first raised a few years ago by the “obvious inbreeding” at a li- on breeding facility she visited.

She conducted research for a year, then brought a group of investigative filmmakers on board. They found that:

  • Cubs are taken away from their mothers just days after birth to force the lionesses into another reproductive cycle;
  • Tourists are charged to pet the cubs or walk with lions (up to R600 for half an hour) while the volunteers are actually paying to help raise them; and
  • Once the cubs reach adult- hood, they are used for hunting. The hunter gets the head and skin, and the bones (worth up to R26 000 per carcass) are shipped to Asia as traditional medicine.

Environmental lawyer Cormac Cullinan said legislation to curb the practice was lacking because nobody had envisaged that lions would be farmed in an industrial production process to produce skins, bones and trophies.

He said lions fell under legislation aimed at protecting biodiversity, but now that they were being bred on farms, they fell be- tween legislative cracks.

Ian Michler, a researcher for the documentary, said by the late 1990s there were fewer than 1 000 large predators (mainly li- ons) in captivity but today, “there are between 6 000 and 8 OOO”.

 In 2013, the total income generated by species fees through trophy hunting was about R122-million. Hankinson said this should be viewed against a back- drop of more than R90-billion generated by inbound tourism.

Ukutula owner Willie Jacobs refused an interview by the film- makers, but told Times Media: “We are a purely research and educational facility and, yes, we do have a programme where guests interact with the animals. We do this to pay our bills.”

 In Pretoria yesterday, Molewa said there had been a 27% increase in poachers entering the Kruger Park to poach rhino.

As of August 27, 749 rhinos had been poached in South Africa this year, with 544 poached in the Kruger Park. In the same period last year 716 were poached.

 About 138 arrests have been made this year, compared to 81 last year.