POLL: Should ‘canned’ lion hunting be banned?

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The documentary Blood Lions exposes ’s controversial “canned” hunting industry. In canned hunts, captive-bred, often hand-reared lions are confined in enclosed spaces on private hunting reserves, guaranteeing marksmen easy trophy heads in exchange for fees of up to $50,000. With approximately 8,000 “ranch” lions to draw on, South Africa’s hunt operators can make a fortune.

Ian Michler, who was a lead character in the film, talked to National Geographic about Blood Lions last July when it debuted in Durban, South Africa. The film has since been viewed in 185 countries and territories. More than 50 curated screenings have been held at film festivals and in parliaments and meetings of special interest groups, and this year, Blood Lions will be shown at every major tourism conference in Europe and Africa.

Building off the film, Michler and the team are conducting a global campaign aimed at ending captive breeding, canned hunts, and other exploitative activities involving lions and other large predators.

Two wild lions in Botswana, where all was stopped in 2013 because of the government’s concerns over lion population declines. Photograph by Ian Michler

Australia became the first country, in February 2015, to ban imports of lion trophies, followed by France in November. That month, Blood Lions was shown in the European Parliament, spurring the governments of Finland, Italy, and Spain to pledge to hold their own parliamentary screenings, with a number of other countries likely to follow suit.

Meanwhile, at the end of last year, the world’s leading group of African lion researchers and conservationists, advised that any assessment of the current state of wild lions in South Africa should exclude its thousands of “ranch” lions. Wild lions in South Africa now number some 3,000, out of an estimated 20,000 remaining continent-wide.

“The great majority of lion populations in Africa have declined,” says Hans Bauer, lion researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and lead author of a 2015 assessment of lions’ conservation status. “It’s important to stress that South Africa’s ranch lions are a horror that has nothing to do with lion conservation and these lions are never taken into account in any serious analysis of the state of lions in Africa.”

Ahead of the March 16 screening of Blood Lions at Washington, D.C.’s 24th Environmental Film Festival, Ian Michler brings us up to date on what the film and campaign around it have achieved and what further hopes he has.

Blood Lions has touched many hearts. Has it opened minds as well?

From an awareness perspective, we’ve created a substantial and credible global campaign and constituency, with social media platforms now reaching millions of followers.

One of the most positive developments is that the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa [PHASA] has come out strongly against and predator breeding. Moreover PHASA has committed itself to expelling errant operators.

We’re also getting the tourism industry to understand the links between lion cub petting and canned hunting.

Can you tell us about the disputes surrounding lion hunting in relevant industry circles in South Africa?

The December 2015 vote by the majority of members within PHASA was a perfectly logical decision in response to the increasing pressures being brought to bear on the hunting industry worldwide. It was clear to those voting against canned hunting that the practices are no longer defendable. Much of the credit for this has to go to the few ethical hunters that formed SAMPEO [South Africa’s Most Proven and Experienced Outfitters] a number of years ago. SAMPEO gained support from people within the PHASA leadership and this catalyzed things.

Not a single lion bred under the current captive conditions has any conservation value. Ian Michler

For the minority that continues to support canned hunting, most are now likely to side with the South African Predator Association (SAPA), a private sector body set up to represent the breeders. Their stance is a combination of ludicrously archaic thinking that seems to have no ethical or ecological grounding, as well as pure greed. We expect this group to continue with their attempts to justify intensive breeding and . And given mounting pressure from within sections of both groups, the danger remains that PHASA may still try and realign with SAPA.

Going forward, the real challenge for PHASA is to act on their statement by policing their membership effectively and then to get international hunting bodies to stop the marketing and sales of canned hunts. Until we start seeing a significant drop in the number of canned hunts and the closure of lion breeding facilities, we can’t even begin to start talking of positive results.

Why is the recommendation by the African Lion Working Group to separate “ranch” from wild lions in any conservation assessment of lions in South Africa important?

One of the more menacing aspects to Southern Africa’s predator industry—let’s not forget there are also operations in Zimbabwe and Namibia—is the way they’ve hijacked the conservation discussion, particularly around lions. In trying to legitimize the exploitation of lions for revenue, they’ve used misleading, and in many cases even false, marketing messages.

This misrepresentation has caused confusion amongst those seeking to understand the conservation challenges and priorities. It may well have also served to syphon vital conservation funding away from the projects run by the recognized predator conservation community.

This lion, in Free State province, is one of up to 8,000 captive lions spread across 200 farms and facilities in South Africa, according to the South African Predator Association. Photograph by Ian Michler

So the working group statement is timely and is to be applauded as it helps put the record straight by making it clear that not a single lion bred under the current captive conditions has any conservation value. This in turn means that South Africa does not have nearly as many ‘wild’ lions as the breeders and canned hunters would have us believe.

In December 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [FWS] included on its list. Is this advancing your cause?

It’s vital that the conservation status of lions across the continent gets updated on a regular basis, and for that the recognized predator scientists and conservation agencies must get all the credit for assisting the FWS in coming to their decision.

Part of our role is to support the scientific community in their work by exposing the misinformation being put out by the lion breeders and canned hunters. The FWS decision reinforces the plight of lions and sends a clear message that breeding lions in captivity for commercial use is certainly not part of the solution.

In this regard, we were particularly interested in their comments on hunting and the links to conservation. An outright ban on importing lion trophies in the way Australia and France have done would have been first choice. But at least the FWS decision now puts the onus on the hunter—they have to show how their lion trophy is making a contribution to the conservation of the species before an import permit will be issued. This is a big step in the right direction.

What role does the tourism industry have to play in regulating the various enterprises that exploit lions commercially?

The only reason we have all these petting facilities and so-called sanctuaries is because we still allow the commercial breeding of predators. In addition, many people still refuse to acknowledge the chain of events that so often leads from cute cuddly cub to canned trophy or a bag of bones. Blood Lions shows how connected this industry is, and sadly it’s tourism that has played a major role in promoting all the abusive activities, from cub petting and walking with lions to the outrageously exploitative “voluntourism” sector.

Every tourism operator that claims to be responsible needs to stop visiting these facilities, and the volunteer recruitment agents need to stop placing unsuspecting students with them. South Africa has untold legitimate and commendable conservation or social projects that need support.

Have you made progress on getting buy-in from the South African government to end the canned lion hunting industry?

The continued state of denial at ministerial and senior levels is not unexpected as it’s become this government’s standard response to most challenges they face, whether environmental, social, or economic. Of course it would be beneficial for all stakeholders if they came forward and entered the discussion. It’s absurd that they continue to pander to the activities of a few hundred people in the face of mounting global opposition from all quarters. But in their absence it’s vital that the local and international campaign continues.

How is your campaign about canned lion hunting in South Africa influencing the wider debate about trophy hunting?

This is the thorniest issue the hunting industry has to deal with because it relates to the general scrutiny hunting currently faces worldwide. It’s not only about how and why they kill, which is mostly what Blood Lions is about, but it also involves the legitimate questioning of whether hunting is an effective land-use option or not.

One of the central debates is around ethics. And the furor around Cecil the Lion, a hunt that was supposed to have taken place under fair chase conditions, clearly shows how narrow the ethical divide between canned hunting and so-called fair-chase hunting can be. For many, Cecil’s killing carried many of the hallmarks defining a canned hunt. He was a collared animal and part of a well-known research project and was lured from a national park to be shot while feeding as his hunter lay close by in a blind that had been set up for the sole purpose of him. What was fair about Cecil’s killing? And where did the money go? Did it really benefit communities or lions?

The upshot is that some hunters have decided not to support an end to canned hunting in fear that this will lead to the inevitable further questioning of such activities relating to other species. I guess for them it’s a bit like being caught between a rock and hard place. And for us it makes the work that much more complicated because groups that ought to be supporting the campaign end up opposing it.

In the run-up to the screening of Blood Lions in Washington, D.C., have you tried to draw an audience that includes people from the U.S. hunting fraternity, which you’ve said before is the most challenging to infiltrate?

One would hope that North American hunters will be at the screening, especially those that regard themselves as ethical. We will reach out, and it would be a significant development if some of the USA-based hunting organizations came out with statements similar to those of PHASA.

To date, we’ve received mixed feedback from recent hunting conventions in the U.S. Some reports indicate empty booths and slow sales for lion hunts in South Africa, while others suggest it’s mostly business as usual among some of the USA hunting organizations.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 11 Mar 2016.

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Michele Jankelow
Michele Jankelow

Africa, greed, corruption and manipulation at its worst! How desperately sad for the lions!

Ken Billington

Lion Canned Hunting is only for cowards – it should be banned!

Caroline Hope

The fact that there are sick people seeking to shoot captive animals for their 'pleasure' is worrying in itself but to make a massive business in unnatural conditions, let alone breeding females far more than natural is inhumane and unethical. Those paying thousands to this industry should be ashamed of themselves and perhaps should stay in their own countries rather than threaten others.
The only way to truly enjoy these beautiful creatures is to shoot with a camera for the world and our grandchildren to see.

Delbert Smith

Alexander Roberts kI know more about wildife management than you, typical liberal idiot you are. Remember the recent story we posted about how hunters are contributing $1.1 billion to U.S. wildlife conservation in 2016 alone? Our collective economic impact doesn't end there. The latest scoop on what visiting hunters spend in Africa is $426 million annually according to a new study from market research firm Southwick Associates (SA). The report—“The Economic Contributions of Hunting-Related Tourism in Eastern and Southern Africa"—researched hunters' total economic contributions between 2012 and 2014 in the top eight African hunting destinations: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana,… Read more »

Delbert Smith

Denine V Heinemann If you are about animals lives thenyou must not speak with your cheeks shoved fullof food.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager Where as you, on the other hand, are an expert no doubt – or you suffered a major head injury !

Alexander Roberts

re: Sustainable use – since you have no use for it, your head would make a fine door stop – except that people would have to look at it.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager Head injury ?

Alexander Roberts

Another wanna be moron.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager What you are, in fact, is an Uneducated Repubublican Bigot and Braggart who believes that humans have some God given right to dominate the Earth with impunity – which classifies you as a first class fool.

IF you ever served in the military, which I find highly doubtful, I'm sure you never set foot ouside an office.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager "arrogance"

Now think carefully – did you sustain a major head injury somewhere along the way – something which might generate delusions of grandeur ?

Cheryl Warren

It is too bad that when you were wounded in what ever you were doing your miserable life was not ended.

Cheryl Warren

All trophy hunting should be banned. Leave wildlife alive Canned hunts are the most barbaric thing there is ranks right up there with child abuse!

Marilyn Ashman

JD Creager , and yet you still feel the need to be at war with Nature and it's Beauty!!!. With all that you have been through, one would think, that you would want to put your gun away, and enjoy what's left of the Nature, in this world.

Marilyn Ashman


Delbert Smith

An animal most have never heard of, the Hirola. Once common throughout East Africa, the species has suffered a devastating decline in the last 30 years, with numbers plummeting from around 14,000 in the 1970s to an estimated 600 today. 80% of the hirola have been lost in Kenya since 1990, THROUGH POACHING NOT HUNTING! Kenya slammed its doors on big game hunting in 1977. The question is how can we bring back this specie like we have the Scimitar-horned oryx, Dama gazelle, and Addax??? (Among many others) As said it best, "If they truly wanted to save the hirola,… Read more »

JD Creager

I agree put the child molesters out there. Put the sexual pred out there. Put the idiot anithunters out there. Once the world is devoid of those the hunters will have a better place.

Without hunters the world would be lacking of millions of animals.

JD Creager

Man, woman or queer ( Yes that it the correct term not gay) whatever you may be. Please I know you have looked at my profile, so I looked at yours, WHo is the coward??? Not me that is certain. LMAo at YOU.

JD Creager

I retired from the US. Army.

Being a coward might be you, but I am certain I am not a coward. I have proven myself in battles on four
I know more about wildlife management than you will ever know.

So how is your lead any different than canned hunting. You have never hunted and canned is a word that is not true to any type of hunting.

JD Creager

Watterson Hev That really is a stupid statemnet from you. Again proving you know nothing about hunting nor lions. Lions are not your LION KING heros.

JD Creager

Not morally wrong. Just your opinon. and a few others.

Let me ask you do you eat meat? What kind of fertilizer was used on the meat you have consumed. Do you use glycerin based products?

JD Creager

Alexander Roberts Your arragoance is only preceded by your ignorance. I don't need your blessing nor anything from you, if I do I will rattle my zipper. I do know a few things, I know you are one of those idiots who make fun of people. Please if you see me in person, walk up to my face and say your cowardly remarks. You can hide here on the internet and play big shot. But you will not in person do that. Here is a few reason. I have fought in Rwanda. I have fought in Somalia, I have fought… Read more »

JD Creager

Are you really that stupid to think the lion is just sitting there waiting to killed? If you are that stupid it shows how little you know about anything wildlife related. Lions are not on the verge of extinction either. You have believed lies. You call it canned it is not canned you pay a set fee to hunt for so many days and if you don't harvest the lion, you have still paid for the hunt. You have not paid the trophy fee. These lions would never have been bred if there was not a monetary value to them.… Read more »

Carol Thompson

Lions should be left in the wild to roam and live free

Charlotte Phillips

The barbaric cruelty of canned hunting should never have been allowed to start. Only sick people consider it sport. I'm disgusted with the human race, and wish I could just live with animals. Let the bloodthirsty bastards shoot each other and leave the innocent animals alone.

Watterson Hev

JD go into a canned-hunt area dressed up as a lion, I dare you! Fair game?

Watterson Hev

Let the canned hunters kill each other

Watterson Hev

They should never have been circus lions to begin with ffs! Are you really so dense JD?

Watterson Hev

Nelie VanAardt They are all needless deaths.

Watterson Hev

Only scum kill defenceless animals. These animals may be aggressive when they need to be but to be taken down by yellow-bellied cowards who hide behind camo and guns, is the ultimate betrayal.

Alexander Roberts

Voting is meaningless – the system can be cheated if you know how – comments are much more meaningful.

Alexander Roberts

Perhaps you can explain how Africa managed so well without trophy hunters for thousands of years – and why Lions, Elephants and Rhinos are on the verge of extinction now thanks in great part to Trophy Hunting and overwherlming corruption – but I'm betting you can't.

As for "school of hard knocks" – as unlikely as it seems, some genuine education would be to your benefit.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager Normally I would say something like "You have the morals of a pig." – but that would be an insult to swine.

Alexander Roberts

JD Creager You are a postert child for ignorance and brutality – you can't even form a simple sentence – you definately should not be allowed to own firearms or be allowed near wildlife without adult supervision.

Alexander Roberts

Nelie VanAardt Chicken and cows aren't on the verge of extinction – get a grip.

Alexander Roberts

Why don't you run this poll – or are you afraid of the outcome ?

"Should there be a Hunting Season on Trophy Hunters ?"

Linda Botha

Yes I do think they should stop people killing lions they the right to live

Stef Carroll

This can NEVER be described as a sport; shooting targets would be a sport. This is just people (sic, or more correctly sick!) killing beatiful creatures for fun, and paying a lot of money to do so. Personally, I couldn't give a damn about it injecting money into the African economy, it needs to stop now, and airlines should stop transporting 'trophies' for murdering scumbags!

Denine V Heinemann

Nelie VanAardt Why are you thinking we don't agree? Are you just assuming? This post is about lions, so we're talking about lions. What's the issue?

Nelie VanAardt

What abput Chickens, Sheep, Beef, Turkeys, Pigs….bred for consumption ARE THEIR LIVES LESS IMPORTAT THAN LIONS???

Teri Tadlock

Unless canned Han hunting is on the menu.
That would even the playing field.

JD Creager
JD Creager

IS THE ANIMAL RIGHTS DOCTRINE KILLING AFRICA'S WILDLIFE? Sub-Saharan Africa is facing a wildlife poaching crisis. Billions of dollars are sunk into ‘development’ aid and innumerable ‘conservation’ organizations dedicating themselves to saving one species or another. Add to that the never-ending high-level conferences that are held to address the issues and, not forgetting, the ivory-burning fests. Despite of all of this natural habitats continue to be destroyed and the wildlife in them annihilated. Why? Could it be that the people who live with wildlife have been dispossessed of their right to manage their own resources? Have Africans bought into the… Read more »

Coleen Lilacfaerie Myburgh

Most definitely !!!!!

Penny Melko

If people really want to can hunt, instead of imprisoning child rapists, serial killers and murderers let the canned hunters have at them and have them stuffed.

Kate Dougherty

It is vicious and debauched. Raise them to trust you and then have some fat white wealthy man drive up and kill it inside a fence. It is obcene.

Kathleen Colley

Canned hunting is disgraceful and sickening excuse for conservation. It is purely and simply a means for the park owners to make heaps of money and a means for people who enjoy killing defenceless animals, the ability to do so without dangers to themselves. In other words, cowardly killing! I despair that it will ever be stopped as there are too many people in government agencies getting paid for this despicable trade.

Paula Bergoff Rotteglia

JD, I have been to lion farms in the North West, where they are using lions for canned hunting, and the truth is, the cubs are being bottle fed inside the petting pens….. If they're bottle bed, they're still very young….. Nothing good can come from this. This is about greed…. This is our heirtage, and our children's and their children's. I am a South African. And to try to put forward that this is 'conservation' is misleading and denial.

Maria Venuto

To the 17 assholes who voted 'no' I'm all for a canned hunt using you creeps as the targets. Seriously, your kind needs to die already.

Nadia Susanne Capy Osgood

Of course it should be banned. It's wrong on every conservation and moral level. I don't believe the conservation argument that canned farms argue. It's all about money and greed …. Oh and mostly stupid rich Americans who believe "they can"