News of South Africa’s planned end to canned lion hunting has been welcomed by those who have campaigned against it.
Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said on Sunday May 2 that South Africa would no longer breed captive lions, keep lions in captivity, or use captive lions or their derivatives commercially.
Captive lion breeding was not contributing to conservation and it was doing damage to the country’s global conservation and tourism reputation, she said.
The multimillion dollar lion-breeding industry supplies cubs for tourism, lions for trophy hunts, and bones for traditional medicine.
Ms Creecy announced that the government would stop issuing permits to breed, keep, hunt, or interact with captive lions and was revoking current breeding permits.
The 2015 documentary, Blood Lions, was part of a global campaign of the same name to stop canned lion hunting. In April 2016, the Zandvlei Trust hosted a fund-raiser and aired the hard-hitting documentary at the Masque Theatre, where the Blood Lions crew and guests spoke out vehemently against the industry.
Campaign manager and director of Blood Lions, Dr Louise de Waal, said of the recent announcement: “The Blood Lions team has worked tirelessly to end this cruel and unethical industry and its spin-off activities. This announcement is highly significant and we commend the minister in her decisive leadership to bringing an end to the commercial captive lion breeding industry. The Blood Lions team offer their full support in developing and implementing a responsible phase-out plan to ensure that the industry is successfully closed down in South Africa, once and for all.”
However, she said, they recognised that there might be grey areas in the proposed implementations. “We urge the minister and her department to be cognisant of such potential loopholes that could be utilised by the commercial captive lion breeding industry in continuing its various spin-off activities.”
A high-level panel was appointed in 2018 to review policies, regulatory measures, practices and policy positions that are related to hunting, trade, captive keeping, management and handling of elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros.
Tourism activities that use captive lions for commercial gain include bottle feeding cubs, cub petting, “pay to walk” with lions, selfie opportunities and volunteering.
According to the Blood Lions campaigners, there are more than 450 such facilities currently operating, including 97 captive-hunting facilities, 133 interaction facilities, 61 offering volunteering opportunities, and only 10 sanctuaries.
Research-based estimates by Blood Lions put the current number of captive lions between 10 000 and 12 000.
The Blood Lions organisation also states that South Africa exported 8 855 lion trophies under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) between 2008 and 2017, with the vast majority from the captive lion population. The top importing countries are America, Spain, Russia, China and Canada.
South Africa also exported 6 634 lion skeletons under CITES between 2008 and 2017, weighing a total of about 70 tons, all from the captive lion population. The top-three importing countries are Lao People’s Democratic Republic (48%), Vietnam (44%) and Thailand (5%).
Dr De Waal said zoonotic diseases had been of particular interest in 2020 because of Covid-19 and a peer-reviewed paper on African lions and zoonotic diseases had been adopted by the high level panel.
This zoonotic research, a joint endeavour by World Animal Protection and Blood Lions, identified 63 pathogens associated with wild and captive lions and 23 human diseases that can potentially be transmitted from lions to people.
The paper has been developed into a science document called “Unpacking the Sick 5”.
In 2019, High Court Judge Jody Kollapen overturned a decision to sanction the export of thousands of lion bone skeletons, declaring that the export quota-setting process had been unlawful and constitutionally invalid
She said there was evidence that in many cases, captive lions were “underfed, malnourished, neglected, bred repeatedly” or confined in overcrowded and cruel conditions.
This was the case in about 200 captive-breeding facilities, all part of an industry worth an estimated R500 million (US$33.6 million) annually.
Marina da Gama resident Ian McCallum, an author, poet, psychologist, medical doctor, photographer and wilderness guide, is featured in the Blood Lions documentary.
“I heard the news of Barbara Creecy’s announcement of a move to ‘can’ the captive breeding and canned hunting of lions with a deep sense of relief, that at last, all the efforts of those who have raised their voices against this pathetically opportunistic practice, have been heard and acknowledged,” he said.
“To me, it is a significant step toward redefining the word sustainability and, more especially, the commercial hijacking of the words ‘sustainable utilisation’ and the idea that ‘if the animal pays, it stays’ … that the reason for their protection depends on how useful or profitable they are.”
Dr McCallum said this is, rightly, an emotive subject.
“Why? Because it raises moral and psychological questions around the deeper meaning of human co-existence with wild animals … that perhaps, we need them far more than they need us.”
As for the moral/ethical challenge of Ms Creecy’s announcement, he said to consider these words from Plato’s dialogue from The Phaedrus: “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good – Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”