‘She’s not the only grinning idiot’
SA loses more than 700 mostly captive-bred lions a year to hunters in a R9bn-a-year industry
EVIL. Sadistic. Mass murderer. A barbaric and disgusting blight on civilisation. This week, the hunter – US TV presenter Melissa Bachman – became the hunted.
It started on Facebook when Bachman, the presenter of a TV hunting show and self-proclaimed “hardcore hunter”, posted a smiling portrait of herself, gushing over a trophy lion kill in Limpopo.
“An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60 yards on this beautiful male lion … What a hunt.”
The photograph prompted outrage and a fierce online petition calling on the Department of Environmental Affairs to bar Bachman from re-entering the country, decrying her as an “absolute contradiction to the culture of conservation”. More than 300 000 have signed.
The celebrity huntress went to ground, shutting her Facebook page and restricting her Twitter account. Hate mail has flooded into the Maroi Conservancy in Limpopo, which facilitated her dream lion hunt.
“Next time you’re in our hood, please pop on down to Cape Town,” invited @Stroobz in an “open letter” preying on Bachman. “There’s a couple of really great folk dishing out excellent hugs. With knives.”
For the SA Predator Association, which farms 5 000 “ranch lions” – captive-bred for the hunting industry – the anger is misdirected: “It’s as if this lion is the last nail in the coffin of the African lion as a species.
“It comes from people that are totally misinformed or… with a mindset created by Walt Disney,” said its president, Pieter Potgieter, who said Bachman’s hunt was legal and a “classic walk and stalk hunt, the basis of the fair chase mode of hunting. Elephant, lion and buffalo and all other game are hunted in South Africa in a responsible and sustainable manner… South Africa’s hunting industry has engineered the survival of several game species on the brink of extinction.”
The SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association, which pushes for a “responsible and legal” trade in lion bone, agrees. “It’s true that the hunting of lions, leopards and elephants elicit strong emotions among animal lovers who do not understand the delicate balance and responsibilities of conservation, or the reality of ‘what pays, stays’. Without hunters, South Africa would not be the world leader in conservation that it is today.”
The captive-lion hunting industry has exploded since a December 2010 court ruling that partly favoured predator breeders when the Supreme Court of Appeal found no rational foundation for the stipulation by former Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk that farmed predators must fend for themselves in an extensive wildlife system for two years before they can be hunted.
A report by the universities of Pretoria and Cape Town, big cat body Panthera and Sweet Briar College, US, found the captive-bred lion hunting industry had grown “to the point where almost twice the number of lion trophies are exported from South Africa as from all other African countries combined”.
In 2009 and 2010, 833 and 682 lion trophies were exported from South Africa. At least 645 bones/sets of bones were exported in 2010, 75 percent to Vietnam and China.
The farming and hunting of lions rakes in R9 billion a year, say hunting advocates, with the industry strictly regulated and canned hunts explicitly forbidden. It costs from $13 500 (R136 700) for a lion hunt.
Chris Mercer of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting said most wildlife hunted were “canned” to a degree. “Canned hunting is any hunt where the target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter either by physical constraints (fenced enclosures) or by mental constraints ( being handreared and habituated to humans).”
“If you take that definition, which I think meets the public understanding of canned hunting, all hunting of captive bred animals is canned hunting in SA… these animals live their life in a cage and then they’re shot. It’s a parody of conservation. It’s ghastly.”
Mercer said lion farming was a danger to the future of wild lions of which there were fewer in South Africa than rhino – less than 3 000 roam fenced-in reserves.
A report released earlier this year by Panthera showed how bleak the outlook is for Africa’s lions, with nearly half facing near extinction within the next 20 to 40 years without urgent conservation measures. Fewer than 30 000 remain in Africa in a quarter of their original habitat.
For Professor Craig Packer of Sweetbriar College, one of the authors of the captive- bred lion study, South Africa’s wild lions are in good hands. “In comparing the status of wild lions across the entire continent, South Africa’s populations are all thriving. All of the parks are fenced and well managed. The SA lion farms appear to be satisfying most of the demand for lion bones in Asia. I’ve not heard of any significant threat to wild lions from international trade for lion parts.”
The predator association says every ranch lion hunted “saves” one in the wild. “The 4 000 to 5 000 ranch lions represent a significant lion population in the broader context of dwindling numbers of the free roaming populations,” adds Potgieter, who says captive-bred lions can be successfully introduced into the wild, making it possible to repopulate lion habitats and reserves in Africa.
Packer has doubts. “There aren’t very many lions left in the wild, so if canned hunting were banned tomorrow, there’s no possible way the same number of wild lions would be shot. Farmed lions would only be suitable for repopulating wilderness areas if all the lions in Kruger, Pilanesberg, Madikwe and Hluhluwe- iMfolozi were to go extinct. Repopulation efforts have been successfully conducted in many parts of SA, but these always involved truly wild lions – captive lions are totally unsuitable. SA’s wild lions are in no danger of extinction, so the farmers’ claims are mere hyperbole.”
Karen Trendler, a wildlife rehabilitation expert, fears authorities have done little to police the captive lion industry, especially in Limpopo, North West and the Free State. “We do not want to see our wildlife farmed like domestic animals, which have been domesticated over thousands of years.
“This is a really a sick and sordid industry,” adds Mercer. “They’ve deliberately promoted, never mind allowed and permitted, canned hunting under the misguided belief that animal welfare is a bourgeoisie white concern which is unAfrican. You can’t just look at (Bachman) in isolation. Take your anger from the obvious unsporting execution of a captive animal by anyone who has a finger big enough to pull a trigger and remember this is happening all the time. The anger one feels towards her, the glorification that one takes in so much cruelty, is no different to the grinning idiots with their unfortunate victims who are hunting lion in SA every day.”
OUTRAGE: Melissa Bachman’s picture of herself with the lion she killed at the Maroi Conservancy.
ZEBRA IN THE CROSSHAIRS: Bachman hunts at the Maroi Conservancy.
CROCODILE KILL: Melissa Bachman bags a dangerous reptile.
AND AGAIN: Bachman shoots an Alaska Black Bear.