Today, I am drawing inspiration from an incredible human being who was released from prison exactly 23 years ago. Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years of his own liberty to abolish apartheid and to ensure the freedom of every single South African. In the face of overwhelming obstacles he continued to believe in justice and a better world for everyone no matter how long or hard the struggle.
Ever since the horrors of canned lion hunting have been exposed in the nineties, there has been a struggle to end it. Today the industry is still expanding rapidly as it is very lucrative and totally legal. Please be part of the global outcry to end this sick industry. Never ever pay to play with lions cubs because you are only enriching the lion breeders. Please don’t be so naive to believe that they will ever be released into the wild because they won’t.
I interviewed Chris Mercer, founder of Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) to find out more about the industry and how we can end it:
1) How long has canned hunting been going on in SA?
The first policy produced to cope with the new activity of captive lion breeding for the hunting market was issued by an unlikely authority – the Gauteng provincial conservation service, in the early nineties. So we can deduce that this is when the industry started. Permits are always granted in terms of policies which are prepared by provincial conservation structures.
2) Can you remember what your initial reaction was when you first learned about canned hunting and when did you establish Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH)?
We first learned about canned lion hunting when we saw the Cook Report video that was screened by Carte Blanche. At that time we were establishing our own wildlife sanctuary in the Kalahari, so we had become sensitised to animal welfare. So we channelled our shock and disgust in to publishing a booklet titled Canned Lion Hunting – A National Disgrace, and in early 2001 sent hundreds of copies out to conservation bodies and international animal welfare organisations worldwide. Then I went overseas to conduct a tour of UK, giving 32 presentations to 32 different audiences in UK over 32 days. The Campaign Against Canned Hunting Sec 21 non-profit was only created after I got back from UK. In 2006.
3) Are there any reliable statistics to show how the industry has grown over the past few years?
Oh reasonably so. The trend is perfectly clear from piecing together PHASA statistics, CITES reports of lion trophy exports, and answers to Parliamentary questions. We know there are at least 5000 lions in captivity being bred for the bullet by nearly 200 breeders, and that the annual killing rate is about one lion per day.
4) How is paying to play with lion cubs related to canned hunting?
Captive breeders are resourceful and have learnt to externalise the cost of raising lions while they are young enough to be cute and cuddly, by leasing them to eco-tourism resorts. The tourists pay the resort to play with cubs, and the resort pays the breeder. When the cubs start to get too big and boisterous for petting (about 8 months usually, they are returned to the breeder to be grown out in to a huntable trophy – minimum three years.
5) Certain people don’t believe that there is a connection between paying to pet lion cubs and the canned hunting industry. What would you say to convince them of this?
No open-minded person could fail to understand that cub petting is part of the captive breeding business plan, because there is no market for adult lions other than canned hunting. What do these doubters think happens to the lion cubs when they become adults? That they are released back to the wild? How naive. No such lion has ever been released; nor would conservation authorities ever allow genetically suspect and feline Aids-prone captive bred lions to be released.
6) How many captive-bred lions are killed in SA each year?
About one per day.
7) Are there any captive lion breeders that you know of that contribute to the conservation of the species?
No. Quite the contrary. Captive lions suffer from captivity depression, and so wild lions need to be caught and brought into the system to keep the blood strong. You can imagine the abuses and smuggling that go on to satisfy this commercial need.
8) Why do you think the South African government is not doing anything to stop the situation?
Preserving national wildlife heritage is a low priority for most third world governments. Add corruption to the mix of ignorance and incompetence and you can begin to understand why SA is a hunter’s paradise. Compare Kenya which banned all hunting thirty years ago as ‘a barbaric relic of colonialism.’
9) Botswana declared that all trophy hunting will be banned from 2014 because it is unsustainable. What will it take for South Africa to arrive at this point?
Regime change. I have been to Parliament to give presentations about canned hunting and I can tell you that these are not animal lovers. In fact, their ignorance about conservation issues is matched only by their breathtaking arrogance. Botswanans, like the Kenyans, are far more sophisticated than their S.A. counterparts.
Anyway hunting in S.A. is far more about killing animals that have been reared as alternative livestock in fenced camps. “Game” ranchers in S.A. are more about agriculture than conservation.
10) What can readers do to stop this vicious industry besides not visiting lion farms?
We have to look at the history of the abolition of slavery to draw lessons on what outraged people can do to get canned hunting banned.
Like slavery, hunting has become deeply entrenched in the agricultural economy. Like slavery, hunting has wealthy and politically powerful supporters. Like slavery, hunting is a tradition.
So abolishing trophy and sport hunting in S.A. will be regarded by many as an attack upon intensely- defended cultural beliefs.
It will take decades. Here and now outraged conservationists and animal lovers need to use the internet in order to raise awareness far and wide, internationally. Only when international disgust has reached the point where foreign tourists start to boycott S.A. as a holiday destination, will the influential S.A. tourism industry agitate vigorously for a ban on hunting. Only then will we see any change. Change will have to come from outside SA.
11) According to recent news reports, the export of lion bones is increasing. Why is this happening?
The lion bone trade was an inevitable spin-off from canned hunting. The hunters only want the trophy parts. So why waste the bones? We warned about this ten years ago in our first book ‘For the Love of Wildlife’. Having emptied the forests of Asia of their tigers in order to produce tiger bone wine, it was predictable that the Chinese producers would turn to the genetically similar lion bone as a substitute. And now the Chinese will empty the plains of Africa of its predators.
12) What is the average price that a hunter would pay for a trophy lion in SA?
Prices for lion trophies vary widely, anywhere from US $20,000 for a young female to perhaps even US $300,000 for a particularly fine male trophy animal.
13) What is a lion skeleton worth?
Lion bone prices are not available. Many exports are of partial skeletons and CITES records do not extend to prices.
14) What would you say to a lion breeder who argues that a lion is just like any other farm animal?
Compared to sheep and cattle farming, farming with lions has some important animal welfare issues. But a captive lion is reared in a cage, and kept in a cage or a small enclosure all his brutal life. He is raised more like a battery hen than like livestock.
15) Is there a current petition that people can sign which will be given to government?
Only the Avaaz one. Some years ago, we handed 35 000 signatures calling for a ban to the Department of the Environment. With media coverage. No effect at all. Petitions do not work in South Africa.