A new doc­u­men­tary high­lights the scan­dal of lions be­ing bred to be hunted

Daily Express - - FRONT PAGE - By Adrian Lee

DEEP in the South African bush, hid­den away from pry­ing eyes, scores of lion cubs are crammed into cages. This place mas­quer­ades as a wildlife sanc­tu­ary – claim­ing that it is do­ing vi­tal con­ser­va­tion work – but that is far from the truth.

In fact be­hind the elec­tric fences th­ese young lions are be­ing bred for one rea­son: when they reach ma­tu­rity the cubs will be shot in the name of sport.

It is known as “canned hunt­ing” and is big busi­ness. About 95 per cent of the lions shot by hun­ters in South Africa are bred in cap­tiv­ity in small com­pounds which have been likened to bat­tery farms.

Long be­fore they ar­rive, the hun­ters can even browse through on­line cat­a­logues and se­lect the spe­cific lion they want to kill.

Most prized are big males which are sold for up to £ 30,000 each but prices start from about £ 3,000 for a fe­male. As a rule of thumb the big­ger the lion’s mane the greater the price on his head.

The so- called hunts are of­ten far­ci­cal be­cause the lions are re­leased in con­fined ar­eas, sur­rounded by fences, where they are easy to track down. Ad­di­tion­ally lions which have been reared in cap­tiv­ity don’t have the same fear of hu­mans as wild an­i­mals.

The sick­en­ing trade in th­ese mag­nif­i­cent beasts is re­vealed in a new doc­u­men­tary, Blood Lions: Bred For The Bul­let, on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel this week.

It is thought there are more than 200 such farms in South Africa alone, op­er­at­ing amid tight se­cu­rity with up to 8,000 cap­tive lions. Re­mark­ably it is all per­fectly le­gal.

Cam­paign­ers who are try­ing to end canned hunt­ing, which operates on a smaller scale in Zim­babwe and Namibia, have faced threats. Pro­gramme- maker Ian Mich­ler, an environmentalist who has spent more than a decade ex­pos­ing the prac­tice, says: “It’s bru­tal. This is a multi- mil­lion pound industry which is be­ing jus­ti­fied un­der the guise of con­ser­va­tion, re­search and ed­u­ca­tion.”

HE RE­VEALS how some lion farm­ers are of­fer­ing deals to lure hun­ters of two free lionesses for ev­ery male bought for the bul­let. In South Africa it’s be­lieved that at least 1,000 lions are be­ing killed in canned hunts ev­ery year. Lions are easy to breed in cap­tiv­ity and the head of the king of the an­i­mal world is re­garded as the great­est tro­phy of them all.

The gov­ern­ment there has tried to ban preda­tor breed­ing but lost a court case five years ago and lion farms have flour­ished.

“Since then we’ve prob­a­bly had a dou­bling in the size of the industry,” says Mich­ler, who has filmed un­der­cover. “It is dis­heart­en­ing.”

Hun­ters, who of­ten have lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence, can buy pack­ages last­ing two or three days which guar­an­tee a kill or your money back. In con­trast hunt­ing a wild lion can take weeks. It is more ex­pen­sive and there’s no guar­an­tee of a shot.

In July the case of Ce­cil, a 13- year- old lion killed by an Amer­i­can den­tist in Zim­babwe, brought big- game hunt­ing into the spot­light. Ce­cil, who was wounded by an ar­row then tracked for 40 hours be­fore be­ing shot by keen am­a­teur hunter Wal­ter Palmer, was a wild lion and the best- known an­i­mal in Hwange Na­tional Park. The lion had been lured from the park.

But for those whose time is pre­cious canned or cap­tive hunt­ing, as it’s also called, is the ul­ti­mate quick- fix. “It’s a slam- dunk deal. You are go­ing to get one,” says one pro­fes­sional hunter, who ad­mits he is un­easy about what’s hap­pen­ing.

At the farms the cubs are taken away from their moth­ers when they are be­tween three and 10 days old. This en­cour­ages more breed­ing, en­sur­ing a ready sup­ply of lions but weak­en­ing the lionesses. In the wild, cubs re­main with their moth­ers for up to two years. Con­di­tions in the com­pounds are of­ten poor be­cause the own­ers’ only aim is to breed as many lions as pos­si­ble. It is also claimed that canned hunt­ing is be­ing un­wit­tingly propped up by gap- year stu­dents, who travel to Africa mis­tak­enly believ­ing they are help­ing con­ser­va­tion work. In re­al­ity there’s no gen­uine rea­son to breed lions. There has been only a hand­ful of cases of lions reared in cap­tiv­ity be­ing suc­cess­fully re­leased into the wild.

Ac­cord­ing to cam­paign­ers, one out of ev­ery two lion sanc­tu­ar­ies is sup­ply­ing an­i­mals for hunt­ing.

Here vis­i­tors who of­ten pay thou­sands of pounds for the priv­i­lege of vol­un­teer­ing are al­lowed to han­dle cubs. Cyn­i­cally the vol­un­teers are of­ten told that the cubs are or­phans when in re­al­ity they have been re­moved from their mother.

Get­ting close to wildlife is all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence and ap­peal but th­ese un­nat­u­ral in­ter­ac­tions be­tween hu­mans and an­i­mals only serve to make the young lions even more tame. When the cubs are no longer suit­able for “pay and play” or cute photo- op­por­tu­ni­ties their days are num­bered.

At one of the gen­uine sanc­tu­ar­ies, Drak­en­stein in Western Prov­ince, South Africa, there is a strict no- breed­ing pol­icy and an­i­mals are of­fered a life­time home. Vis­i­tors are not per­mit­ted to han­dle cubs. Owner Paul Hart says: “We have a coun­try where a large ma­jor­ity of peo­ple pro­fess to be an­i­mal lovers but seem to be obliv­i­ous to the fact that ev­ery day cap­tive bred, hand- reared tame lions are be­ing slaugh­tered in canned hunts.

“Any cap­tive lion has no con­ser­va­tion value what­so­ever.”

ASPIN- OFF from canned hunt­ing is the lu­cra­tive trade in lion bones. In Chi­nese medicine they are be­lieved to cure many ills but a ban in the Far East means that there’s a thriv­ing black mar­ket. Un­scrupu­lous lion farm­ers are only too happy to boost their in­come by meet­ing this de­mand. And they don’t care if the lions they are churn­ing out are sick, or barely able to walk be­cause of some ge­netic prob­lem caused by in­ten­sive breed­ing. In the pro­gramme one of the most dis­tress­ing images is the sight of a cub piti­fully drag­ging its al­most use­less back legs.

How­ever breed­ing per­mits are sim­ple to ob­tain and the author­i­ties will only step in if there are clear cru­elty is­sues. As the lion farms op­er­ate in such iso­lated ar­eas this is no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult to prove. The farm own­ers, who claim they are help­ing to boost lion num­bers, guard their trade jeal­ously. In the pro­gramme an un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tor who is caught film­ing is warned: “I will kill you.”

Botswana, which bor­ders South Africa, has taken a tougher stance by out­law­ing com­mer­cial hunt­ing. Cam­paign­ers in­sist the scan­dal of canned hunt­ing dam­ages the im­age of South Africa, which re­lies heav­ily on tourism.

There are calls for the cap­tive breed­ing of lions to be banned and for gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing Bri­tain and the US, to out­law the im­port of an­i­mal tro­phies.

Will Travers, pres­i­dent of the Born Free Foundation, says: “The idea of killing th­ese mag­nif­i­cent an­i­mals for fun makes me ashamed of my own species. Canned hunt­ing is sim­ply bag­ging a tro­phy as quickly as pos­si­ble then push­ing off home. It’s dis­gust­ing.”

Blood Lions: Bred For The Bul­let is on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel on Wed­nes­day Oc­to­ber 28, at 10pm ( Sky 520, Vir­gin 250, BT TV 322, TalkTalk 322)


MAG­NIF­I­CENT: Ce­cil, main pic­ture, was hunted down in Zim­babwe by an Amer­i­can den­tist while, in­set, two lion cubs are reared in cap­tiv­ity to be slaugh­tered

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