It’s a damning book by British wildlife philanthropist author and pollster Lord Michael Ashcroft that blows the lid off the lucrative industry of ‘canned lions,’ exposing the horrors of farms where, for exorbitant prices, hunters shoot and kill lions bred in captivity for sport.
The recently published Unfair Game: An Exposé of South Africa’s Captive-Bred Lion Industry is, as The Times describes it, “an investigation into a trade of “profound wickedness.” There are now an estimated 12,000 captive-bred lions in South Africa — four times the number of wild lions.
A captive-bred adult male lion with an impressive mane can command up to $50,000 from trophy hunters wanting to shoot it in a canned hunt.
The book is the latest in a series of revelations by Ashford made through two undercover operatives — Operation Simba and Operation Chastise — that included former members of the Special Forces infiltrating the canned lion farms using drones and military-grade tracking devices, and that seek to convince governments to outlaw the industry and its spin-offs such as a market for lion bones and parts.
Trophy Hunting Must Stop
Some 6,000 cubs are bred every year in lion ‘factory farms’ for canned hunting that takes place on farms where semi-tame animals are shot in enclosures, according to Eduardo Gonçalves, founder of an international campaign to close a loophole in international regulations that allows trophy hunters to shoot critically endangered wildlife.
The campaign also seeks to abolish trophy hunting worldwide by means of an international prohibition treaty.
“The Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting believes trophy hunting is cruel, archaic, immoral and unjustified,” says Gonçalves, author of two recent bestselling books on the subject: Trophy Hunters Exposed: Inside the Big Game Industry and Killing Game: The Extinction Industry. “It can inflict significant pain and suffering, undermines genuine conservation and brings no real benefits to local communities.”
Restoring The Animals Dignity
“If hunting is itself a morally questionable sport, ‘canned hunting’ could be classified as cowardly infamy,” says international prizewinning wildlife photographer Pedro Jarque Krebs, whose extraordinary images of lions illustrate this article.
Jarque Krebs’s regards his photos as a way of “restoring to the animals some of their stolen dignity.”
“Raising a wild animal and releasing it in a fenced enclosure to be hunted, defenseless, by people devoid of emotions, further devalues the already poorer reputation of the human being among all living beings that have existed on this planet,” the photographer @pjarquek, added. “Fortunately, there are influential people in the world who are fighting this decadent practice, at a critical moment in history, when we are facing the sixth mass extinction as a consequence of our lousy natural resource management. I hope that soon it will be just a sad anecdote that we tell of the past.”
Unfair Game uncovers some of the practices associated with the multi-million-dollar business of lion farming, in which Africa’s ‘king of the jungle’ is bred either to be hunted on so-called ‘canned hunts’ where it has no chance to escape or for its bones to be sold for “medicinal” purposes.
According to The Sunday Times, South African safari operators are still promoting “holidays where tourists can hunt down and shoot captive-bred lions in fenced areas from which there is no escape.”
The newspaper adds that the tour companies describe “the dark continent of Africa” as “the ultimate hunting safari experience.” The prices for hunting enclosed wild animals such as giraffes is $3,000 and as low as $200 for baboons, while the prices for elephants, rhinos, lions and leopards are in the tens of thousands.
Describing the scene in one of the videos filmed by Lord Ashford’s team, The Times writes that “the lion with a striking dark mane pads around the enclosure.
He pauses after one of the hunt’s organizers whistles to him. This is no wild animal: He is used to human interaction. Then a shot is fired at close range from a jeep. It hits the lion in one of his front legs, making him leap into the air. The hunter targets him again and again. Afterwards the killer stands over the dead lion and says: ‘Hey you, I’m sorry but I wanted you.’”
The hunter “then kisses the carcass, as the kill is marked with sustained laughter, celebratory high-fives, and gleeful handshakes.”
The book’s author likens it to “shooting fish in a barrel.”
Unfair Game shows how tourists are sometimes unwittingly supporting the abuse of lions, starting with the practice of petting the cubs and paying for walks with them for photos.
Then there is the hunting of the adult animals which, first calmed with tranquilizers, are killed in enclosed spaces.
The third aspect of the business is the sale of bones, skulls and other parts of the animals to Asia’s insatiable markets.
It all adds up to a multi-million-dollar business linked to criminality and corruption and that underpins the captive lion industry.
Among the revelations in the book:
- More than 300 farms are breeding lions either to be shot by wealthy hunters in enclosures or butchered for the grisly trade in lion skeletons.
- At every stage of their lives, these animals are abused and monetized. Even as cubs, they’re fondled by paying tourists.
- Once the farm-bred lions have served their purpose, their bones and other body parts are exported for the booming Asian medicine market which mistakenly considers them to have medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties.
- The captive-bred lion industry is a highly lucrative business.
- A single lion skeleton can fetch thousands of dollars and the bones are often made into ‘cake’ or wine.
- Those involved in the production and export of lion bones also smuggle rhino horns, elephant ivory and the scales of pangolin, the most trafficked animal in the world (and linked to Covid-19, having been sold in the Wuhan wet market in China where the pandemic started).
“It’s time to recognize that it is a cruel and barbaric industry which has no place in the 21st century,” writes Lord Ashcroft, who campaigns for the banning of captive-bred lion trophies and the trophies of other endangered species’ imports. “Other governments can’t control what takes place within South Africa’s own borders but it can show their opposition to lion farming. We must not be complicit in any way with this vile practice.”
Lord Ashcroft is donating all royalties from the book to wildlife charities in South Africa.
For its part, Born Free USA, an international leader in animal welfare and conservation, is launching a six-week campaign in July and August “to raise awareness on the global impact of trophy hunting and to reveal the brutal facts behind common myths supporting the continuation of this cruel, outdated practice.”
Angela Grimes, CEO of Born Free USA, said that “the trophy-hunting industry has unfortunately been able to persuade a segment of the public that it’s actually helping save endangered species like lions, tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses by killing them for so-called sport. But hunting these threatened animals as recreation and then showing off their heads or other body parts doesn’t do anything to help vulnerable populations and this is a chance to set the record straight.”
The following are the myths and facts, according to the organization:
Myth: Trophy hunting helps maintain wildlife populations.
Fact: Trophy hunting weakens wildlife populations by killing off the strongest and healthiest animals, which are considered better trophies. Hunters frequently target endangered species and contribute to the global wildlife trade that threatens biodiversity and wilderness habitats.
Myth: Trophy hunting provides economic support for local communities and conservation efforts.
Fact: The trophy-hunting industry benefits a small group of outfitters, sponsors, and government agencies. Little of the money it generates is invested in local economies, creates jobs, or is distributed to conservation organizations. Animal-friendly eco-tourism, meanwhile, offers an efficient, sustainable and cruelty-free economic opportunity.
Myth: Trophy hunting is a sport.
Fact: Trophy-hunting guides lure animals with bait, target animals in and around protected land that are accustomed to humans, and even shoot from helicopters. In canned hunting operations, people pay thousands of dollars to kill animals that have been raised in captivity, and shoot them in an enclosed area from which they cannot escape. There is nothing sporting about this.
Born Free USA’s trophy-hunting campaign coincides with the fifth anniversary of the death of Cecil the lion. In a case that provoked widespread outrage, an American hunter and his guide in Zimbabwe used bait to lure Cecil from a national park, wounded him, and left him to suffer overnight before returning to kill him more than 10 hours later.
Despite the negative public reaction to Cecil’s death, the United States continues to allow trophy hunters to import trophies into the US from around the world and allows domestic trophy hunting of iconic species including wolves, black and grizzly bears, and mountain lions.