Due to South Africa’s barbaric but lucrative big cat industry, there are currently four times the amount of lions in captivity than in the wild. The lions who are born into captivity go on to lead miserable, brutal existences before their fate is decided by trophy hunters, or wildlife traffickers who sell their skulls to create medicine.
Operation Simba, a series of undercover missions carried out in 2018 and 2019, found that big cat skulls were also openly being traded in Johannesburg markets. Lord Ashcroft, who funded the investigations, said those involved in the production and export of lion bones, also smuggle rhino horn, elephant ivory, vulture heads and the scales of pangolin – the most trafficked animal in the world.
There are around 12,000 lions in captivity, while there are just 3,000 in the wild, said the former deputy chair of the Conservative party. He told Good Morning Britain: ‘Of those born in captivity, they first of all are used as pets for kids to go and pet them, then walking with lions.
‘And then finally, the worst part of all, is they’re either slaughtered for their bones, which are then sent to the far east, or the canned hunt is where one of these tame lions is bought by a hunter – who often sees the photograph of the lion on the internet – buys the lion, goes to South Africa, the lion is then often sedated, put into an enclosed area, and then the hunter shoots the lion.
‘The condition in which they are held is extremely brutal. There is probably around 100 plus farms in South Africa that are in this particular trade’.
However, the true number of lion farms is expected to be much higher at around 300, say conservationists.
Head of policy at international animal charity Born Free Foundation, Dr Mark Jones, told Metro.co.uk last year: ‘Africa’s lions are facing an unprecedented crisis… These animals have a short and traumatic life in what is an incredibly cruel and cynical industry.’
Tourists who cuddle lion cubs on holiday in South Africa are duped into helping the cruel trade, say conservationists, which will see that cub eventually slaughtered in a messy execution by inexperienced trophy hunters – and some of them are British.
Many shoot the animals with deliberately poor aim to avoid damaging ‘highly valuable bone tissue’ so they can sell them for a higher price, with many shot in the stomach or poisoned, Lord Ashcroft wrote in the Mail on Sunday.
During the investigation, his team watched a harrowing video filmed covertly in a South African lion farm, which saw two men drive a pick-up truck into a fenced enclosure.
A lioness who climbed up a tree for protection can be seen ‘looking forlorn and distressed’, he said, before a gunshot is fired from the truck causing the animal to ‘roar in pain’ and fall to the ground.
She then tries to position the tree trunk between hers and the hunters before the men start repeatedly shooting at her again.
‘They then drive round to the other side of the tree, where the lioness lies panting in a pathetic state, one shoulder shattered and bullet holes pock-marking her flank,’ Lord Ashcroft wrote. ‘Using pistols now, the men try again.
‘Several shots later, the poor beast, riddled with bullets, finally expires. In this shooting spree, stretched over seven-and-a-half minutes, she is seen being shot ten times while the men chat to each other casually.’
Concerns were also raised over the skull trade of man-bred ligers – a cross between a lion and a tiger, the latter of which are thought to be trafficked from their native Asia.
The animals quickly grow to 4 feet tall and 11 feet long and a three-year-old liger becomes the same size as a nine-year-old lion, Lord Ashcroft added. Its sped-up growth means it produces stronger bone density at a faster pace, meaning their skulls can be sold for a higher price.
A total of 800 lion skeletons are sold out of South Africa each year, with some of them making it to the UK.
Dr Jones said the best way to try and halt the trade is by not visiting captive facilities that advertise opportunities for close contact with lions or other wildlife, while on holiday in South Africa.
He added: ‘It is highly likely that it is a breeding facility. A real conservation facility would not let you handle the animals, so do your research.
‘Canned hunting will continue while people are making money from tourists.’
This article was first published by The Metro on 17 June 2020. Lead Image:Conservationists have urged tourists to avoid centres where they advertise the opportunity to interact with cubs or wildlife (Picture: Lord Ashcroft on Wildlife).
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